For the first time in many years, several communities on the coast of James Bay witnessed polar bears within their town limits in 2016.  Although no one can predict whether these occurrences will repeat with any regularity, many experts agree the chance is high enough to take pro-active steps to deal with this emerging issue.

“No one has a crystal ball,” said Polar Bear Habitat Manager, Karen Cummings, “but we know of at least 8 occurrences between December 2015 and December, 2016. As this is new for communities such as Moose Factory and very rare for places like Kashechewan and Attawapiskat, there was no reason previously for these communities to prepare for polar bears entering their towns.  Without tools or training, their officials reacted appropriately to ensure the safety of their community, and in almost every case, were forced to dispatch the bears.”

When Mushkegowuk announced a new Environmental Steward program, the Polar Bear Habitat reached out to their Education and Training Department in hopes of receiving funding to facilitate and coordinate a program to train and provide tools to the communities in their territory that had the highest likelihood of polar bear/human interactions. The newly dubbed “Polar Bear/Human Interaction Strategy” will combine the expertise of a professional Bear Safety/Guarding consultant, Bear Keepers from the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, a Polar Bear safety officer from Arviat, and of course, Mushkegowuk Environmental Stewards tasked with monitoring and helping protect their lands and ecosystems. The goal is for Environmental Stewards to apply and adapt the training and deterrent techniques taught to each communities’ unique circumstances.

Funding from Mushkegowuk Council Education and Training is earmarked to bring all stake holders to Fort Albany from March 13th through 16th of 2017, provide deterrents and tools, and build 5 live polar bear traps for relocating bears away from town centers when absolutely necessary.  “These communities need the ability to deal with these issues themselves, in ways that align with their beliefs and history of caring for their land and the creatures under their care. Mushkegowuk has recognized that climate change is affecting their people in their communities, and this program, in tandem with the Environmental Steward program, is a perfect example of how pro-active and responsive these communities are when facing incredible challenges. We are so proud to be a part of it.”

Mushkegowuk’s Grand Chief, Jonathon Solomon was very contemplative about the workshop. “We know climate change is affecting our communities now. We know actions must be taken to learn and respond to these changes. This workshop is just one step of potentially many we will be taking to ensure the security of our communities and we are participating in collecting and processing information we need to shape our future.”

Northern community members joined forces with the Polar Bear Habitat and Mushkegowuk with supplies, services and funding to provide the incredible logistics necessary to execute the workshop. Canada Culverts supplied culverts for bear traps, Tim Moyer of Tran Express provided transport services and Ontario Northland Rail assisted in getting Polar Bear Habitat staff and a vehicle home safely from Fort Albany. Mushkegowuk and the Polar Bear Habitat wish to thank all for their commitment to creating a sustainable future for polar bears.