Nunavut hunters can kill more polar bears this year

Nunavut has increased the annual polar bear quota, letting hunters kill more because the animals are prowling through Arctic towns.

Hunters in Nunavut are celebrating an increase in the polar bear quota for 2005, prompted by reports that the animals are prowling the streets of some Arctic communities.

The territory's government has approved a 28-per-cent increase in the polar bear quota for this year.

That will let Inuit hunters shoot 115 more bears, for a total of 518. Some will be harvested for their meat and pelts, and others will be killed in sport hunts.

James Qillaq, the president of the Hunters and Trappers Organization in Clyde River, a community on the east coast of Baffin Island, said families have grown worried about the safety of their children as the bears become more aggressive.

"The polar bear population is growing," he said. "A lot of people, the hunters or campers, [were] bothered by polar bears."

The increased quota will bring more money into the territory, since there will be more sport hunts.

Polar bears shot in such hunts, usually by free-spending American hunters, can bring in between $20,000 and $35,000 apiece in terms of economic spinoffs.

Nunavut's environment minister, Olayuk Akesuk, says government officials decided to increase the quota after consulting with Inuit elders and hunters about how much the bear population has increased.

He said the government is open to making more decisions like this on the basis of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge.

"We will respect more the say of the community and we want to see more of Inuit knowledge and western science included into one," he said.

Given that the polar bear is a high-profile species, Akesuk said he expects international animal rights activists to disapprove of the increase in the quota.

He said his department will stand by its decision.