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Report suggests feeding polar bears to save the species

The Canadian Press
A polar bear walks along the beach in Kaktovik at sunset. September 7, 2012 Loren Holmes photo

A group of 12 polar bear experts have come up with some new ideas on how to save the animal should climate change threaten its survival.

The policy document, which is not a study, has various suggestions on how to manage the bears if they begin to starve. The ideas range from doing nothing and letting nature take its course, to rescue and rehabilitation.

The paper also suggests feeding the bears.

That has people in Nunavut talking.

"It's ridiculous, human beings feeding polar bears," said James Eetoolook, vice president of Nunavut Tungavik. "Polar bears are wild animals. They're predators. They're hunters. Let them be."

Andrew Derocher, one of the paper's authors, admits feeding the bears is a very invasive option.

But he says in other parts of the world feeding wildlife is an acceptable part of animal management plans.

"If you go to the north coast of Alaska right now, where they have a bowhead harvest, there is a large number of bears that feed on that refuse pile every year. It's a large, reliable food resource; it happens right off the edge of the community in Kaktovik," Derocher said.

"So that's an example where if you do it properly you can put your refuse pile in a place that might benefit the bears."

Inuit hunters and the Government of Nunavut say Canada's polar bears are doing well, while others are sure the animals are in crisis.

Eetoolook says polar bears would be able to survive without ice and if a feeding program was introduced it would pose a risk to humans.

Cost $1M a month to feed polar bears

The authors of the paper estimate that to feed only the accessible bear populations in the world would cost $1 million a month.

The Government of Nunavut says its management plan takes climate change into account and should the population decline, hunting quotas would be reduced.

David Akeeagok, Deputy Minister of the Environment, says feeding polar bears is not an option it would consider.

"A fed bear is a dead bear," he said.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.