The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board may face tough decisions and plenty of debate as it prepares for public consultationsabout proposals to reduce polar bear hunting on Baffin Bay and Western Hudson Bay.

Territorial Environment Minister Patterk Netser has given the wildlife boarda number offormal recommendationsthat callfor reductions in the total allowable polar bear harvest in those areas. The board has scheduled public consultations on the matter — the firston Tuesdayin Arivat in the Western Hudson Bay area, andthe secondin Septemberin Pond Inlet, one of the communities that hunts on Baffin Bay.

"There's the first time I hear it's been discussed," Pond Inlet Mayor David Qamaniq said Thursday. "I would assume that people won't be happy about the proposal."

Nunavut raised its hunt levels in 2005, bumping up the total allowable harvest numbers in Baffin Bay alone from 64 to 105 polar bears. At the time, Environment Minister Olayuk Akesuk said the decision to raise harvest levels was based mainly on Inuit traditional knowledge.

The territorial government now is concerned that the combined hunt by Greenland and Nunavut hunters in the area is not sustainable at current harvest numbers.

"The concern is that the population has declined, and the levels of total allowable harvest are not sustainable," Netser wrote in an Oct. 27, 2006, letter to the wildlife board.

"As such, there is a conservation concern that at present [total allowable harvest] levels, the [Western Hudson Bay] polar bear population is declining, and a management plan is necessary."

The number of polar bears in the area has been a point of contention between Inuit hunters and scientists with the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Hunters say polar bears have moved north

The service cites studies that say the bear population in Western Hudson Bay has dropped below 1,000 bears, as their health and survival is affected by shrinking ice. Hunters argue those studies only focus on the population of a small area in the southern part of the region;they say polar bear populations have simplyshifted further north.

"Every year, there's more polar bear encounters in camps, and people see polar bears they don't normally see in the past," Qamaniq said. "I think there's more polar bears than before."

Netser said while the government is recommending a decrease in hunting levels, it also plans to take a close look at the polar bears' distribution.

"We plan to do an entire survey for that zone this summer," Netser said.

Greenland introduced polar bear quotas last year, but talks to develop a research and management agreement for Baffin Bay and other shared populations are continuing.