At the end of this season, I found myself on a full-on out-of-my-mind rant to two people that should and, essentially, are on the same side of the environmental spectrum as I am. While I would never take it back, I did start wondering why I feel such a sense of rage and despair when it comes to the current state of Churchill’s polar bears. So, I have penned an open letter hopefully stating Churchill’s view on polar bears and seeking some positive change for this little town and its bears. If there are errors or omissions, I welcome any corrections or suggestions. If you would like to add your name to this open letter, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 15, 2013
Province of Manitoba
Department of Conservation and Water Stewardship
200 Saulteaux Crescent
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3J 3W3
Attention: Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Conservation and Water Stewardship
Dear Mr. Mackintosh,
Residents of Churchill and participants in the Churchill Polar Bear industry support for the basic tenets of the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill; primarily, the continued safety of people while minimizing harassment of polar bears. However, many of us feel it is time to voice our growing concern with the implementation of this program and the increasingly alarming actions by the Province of Manitoba in regards to Churchill’s polar bears.
The following is a list of concerns and requests as compiled by local tour operators and members of the polar bear industry. It is to be used as a baseline from which to establish a local oversight committee to work with Manitoba Conservation in an effort to improve the Polar Bear Alert Program. The list is as follows:
- Review all procedures and protocols surrounding the hazing and removal of polar bears along the coast near Churchill. Focus should be placed on:
o Development of a special protocol for the handling of females with cubs, one which creates the absolute lowest level of impact possible.
o Reducing the use of cracker shells and active harassment of polar bears by conservation officers. There is a real concern that this is resulting in both habituated and ‘spooked’ bears in and around the community.
o Institute a means of follow-up to handling actions in regards to polar bears to ensure the continued health of this population.
o Explore all possible options for problem bears before euthanization or captivity, including tracking technologies, extended relocation or possibly the involvement of the Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation.
o Environmental factors (such as outgoing tides and rolling waves) must be taken into account by officers when handling bears. Young bears and mothers with cubs must no longer be forced into the bay or river if conditions are deemed dangerous.
o Increase efforts to communicate ‘best practices’ with residents, transient workers and tourists during the polar bear season. This may include providing non-lethal deterrents to individuals in October/November.
o Investigate options for cameras in the patrol vehicles for use when investigating serious incidents and communicating the results to the public.
o Increase opportunities for local students and local employment with the Polar Bear Alert program.
- Increase and centralize efforts with 24-hour patrols of the Churchill town site proper while reducing the handling of polar bears outside of this area.
o Observe polar bears at areas closer to town such as Cape Merry and Miss Piggy beach instead of actively hazing them. Hazing polar bears outside the community should only occur as a last resort.
o Non-governmental organizations which benefit from Churchill and our polar bears should be approached to participate in securing the community against polar bears, primarily by assisting in the 24-hour patrol of the community.
o Actively pursue the installation of cameras to increase officers accessibility to the rocky coastline near Churchill. The intent is to both reduce ‘surprise’ polar bear calls and increase the safety level of local officers.
- Improve the protocols surrounding the Polar Bear Holding Facility (D-20)
o Minimize and potentially eliminate the placement of females and cubs in the Polar Bear Holding Facility
o Re-examine the hold and release policy surrounding the PBHF. For the past two years, several bears have lost critical early season hunting time while awaiting release from the jail.
o Manitoba Conservation must commit to its own policy of ‘no visitors allowed’ in the jail. Increasingly VIP ‘tourists’ and politicians are granted a tour of D-20. This is unacceptable and unnecessary.
o The policy of selling ‘bear lifts’ should be reviewed and preferably eliminated. Polar bears should be relocated based on the welfare of the animal not a tour schedule.
- Improve the culvert traps
o Install signaling devices to notify officers immediately when the door is tripped on a polar bear trap. This is of critical importance when a cub or female is in the trap and separated from their family.
o Reduce and hopefully remove the potential for injury to polar bears while inside the traps.
o Actively work to reduce the amount of polar bears trapped and placed in PBHF.
In terms of the Province of Manitoba and its current treatment of Churchill’s polar bears. The community of Churchill, as a whole, has a real perception that the Province is simply treating our bears as another commodity to be exploited. This must be addressed immediately.
As part of this process, we ask that local polar bear knowledge be given the same weight and respect as that of visiting researchers and NGO volunteers. We ask for clarity on licensing and permits for local guides and visiting photographers. We ask for a safe and affordable option for locals to view polar bears.
We ask that non-invasive research techniques such as the aerial surveys conducted by Manitoba Conservation and the University of Manitoba whisker pattern study be placed as a priority by our province. It is our hope that Manitoba will move to reduce and eventually eliminate invasive techniques such as radio collaring and helicopter-based mark-recapture projects.
Most importantly, we do not believe that the polar bear population has reached a tipping point or that the health of this population warrants the current level of intervention; specifically the removal of wild bears to captivity.
The community of Churchill has a worldwide reputation as a leader in human and polar bear co-existence. We ask the Province of Manitoba not to simply reap the benefits of our reputation but to continually and actively pursue the original intent of the Polar Bear Alert program.
Thank you for your consideration.
Polar Bear Alley
Lot 35 Camp Nanuq
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