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Canadian Town Cancels Trick-Or-Treating Over Polar Bear Fears

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Polar bears have ruined yet another holiday. The town of Arviat, located in Canada’s Nanavut territory, has cancelled trick-or-treating this Halloween over fears of polar bear attacks on children.

Arviat wants its residents to celebrate Halloween indoors, marking the first time the town has ever prevented kids from trick-or-treating outdoors on Halloween– which falls during polar bear season.

“Picture 1,200 kids going door to door in Arviat in the middle of polar bear season,” Steve England, Arviat’s senior administration officer, told CBC News. “It’s a pretty obvious conclusion of what tragedies could come out of that. We’re just trying to safeguard the younger population by offering an alternative.”

To many Americans, polar bears are the white-furred victims of global warming, but to Inuits living in northern Canada, polar bears are a real danger. Ikakhik, Arviat’s polar bear monitor, has been working the night shift the last three years to protect the town from night-time polar bear incursions.

He’s seen some busy nights of late, setting off lots of “bear bangers” to scare away bears that get too close to town. Recently, Ikakhik had to scare off a mother bear and her cubs when they got too close to a sled dog team.

“Even though I start at midnight, I got a call at 10:30 to go help the wildlife officers,” Ikakhik told Nunatsiaq Online. “And I’m glad they did, because we were dealing with a mother bear and her cubs.”

“Sometimes there were some tense moments,” he said, “because when we got close enough the mother started charging at us and we’re only on ATVs.”

Some blame global warming for increasing the likelihood of humans coming into contact with polar bears that are seeing their traditional hunting grounds melt away. But bear sightings are nothing new in Arviat, which sees as many as eight bears a day passing through on their migration north. Men’s Journal reports that 1,200 bears pass through Arviat every year on their way north to hunt for seals as winter comes.

Interactions between polar bears and humans have been on the rise in recent years. Some blame melting sea ice from global warming, but other trends may also be pushing humans and polar bears into closer proximity with one another.

For example, polar bear populations have been growing in the last few decades. Official estimates put the global polar bear population at 25,000 (due to flaws in official counts, the real number is likely higher) and half the world’s polar bears live in Canada.

Arviat sits in the West Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation, which boasts about 1,000 bears. Though polar bear experts say the subpopulation in this area is declining despite bear population booms elsewhere in the Arctic.

Polar bears that migrate north during winter, however, have seen their populations stay stable over the past decade or so. The South Hudson Bay polar bear population is stable and has 970 bears– much higher than population estimates in the 1980s. Just north of Arviat, the Foxe Basin area has a whopping 2,580 bears — up from an estimated 2,197 bears in the 1990s.

The human population in Nanavut and Arviat have been growing rapidly in recent years as well. Nanavut’s population in 1996 was 24,730, but by 2011 it had jumped to 31,906 people. Nanavut government statistics say there are now 36,585 people in the territory.

Arviat’s population has also grown pretty significantly from 1,899 people in 2001 to 2,318 people in 2011. These population estimates don’t count the increasing numbers of people who visit the Arctic region as tourists or who do seasonal work on oil rigs, fishing or other operations.

Arviat residents once shot most of the polar bears that came into the town until they partnered with environmentalists to find other ways to scare them off. Bears are still occasionally shot, reports Nunatsiaq Online. Seven bears were killed in self-defense in 2010. Three were killed in 2011, but none have been killed since.

No humans have been attacked by bears, according to Ikakhik, thanks to his patrols. But sled dogs and stashes of meat near sled teams are a tempting target for bears looking for a bite to eat. Last month, a sled dog was killed by a polar bear.

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