Inuit who lead American clients on polar bear hunts say they’ve already lost money as a result of Wednesday’s decision in the United States to add the Arctic predators to a list of threatened species.
And although the Inuit hunters say they’ll try to bring in customers from other countries, American outfitters who organize such trips don’t hold out much hope.
“There’s more Americans who want to shoot polar bears than any other nationality,” Gregg Severinson, director of Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures, a major U.S. outfitter and gear supplier, said Thursday.
Still, Nathaniel Kalluk, who has been a polar bear guide based in Resolute, Nunavut, for 10 years, is hoping to replace his American clients with hunters from other countries.
“We’ll probably go overseas or something like that,” he said.
“We’ve got one client from Austria already coming up in a couple days. Him and his wife are coming up to see what it’s like and we’ll take it from there.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is declaring the polar bear a threatened species. The decision is based on the reasoning that the bears’ primary habitat — arctic sea ice — is shrinking as a result of climate change.
The listing means American hunters will no longer be able to bring bear hides into the United States.
Kalluk said he’s already had one cancellation — a US$27,000 hit that affects not only him, but the local co-op that provides supplies and women who sew caribou parkas and pants the hunters use.
“He was going to come up on the 17th if (the hide) was importable,” Kalluk said. “But when it’s not importable any more he cancelled out.”
The entire industry is worth about $2.5 million a year in Nunavut — big bucks in tiny, remote communities where working for the government is often the only other option.
Kalluk expects a few Americans to still come hunting. Some have friends or businesses in Canada where they can leave the trophy.
But don’t look for very many, Severinson said. He looks back to the 1990s, another period when Americans weren’t allowed to import their polar bear hides.
“We booked no Americans and maybe five foreign hunters a year.”
Kalluk, who employs four guides, has 20 tags to sell. And he’s got lots of bears to hunt.
“More than ever now,” he said. “In fact, four times hunters got their bears the first day they (went) out.”
Kalluk, a 53-year-old grandfather, also offers muskox and caribou hunts and also takes a few non-hunting tourists around in the summer. But muskox numbers are declining and nothing pays as well as the bears.
“It’s disappointing, but life goes on.”
Severinson scoffs at the decision to list the bears and suggests sport hunting is not why some bear populations are in decline.
“It’s managing emotions, not wildlife,” he said.
Kalluk agrees. “(It’s a) game only.”
And even though he’s faced with scrambling to keep his livelihood, Kalluk’s thoughts are with his clients and fellow hunters.
“I am very sorry for the hunters of the United States. I’m sorry for them. They want to get a polar bear. And when they get one they want to take the hide home and they cannot do that any more.”