Christina E. MacLeod471
The Newfoundland and Labrador Government set forth to strengthen the sustainable management of the Davis Strait subspecies of polar bear and ended up creating an inclusive document that combined local, indigenous, and scientific knowledge. The Management Plan puts into action a structure that includes ecological, social, and economic considerations and in a way that engages governments and departments as well as local communities and individuals.
Policymakers, activists, and academics have developed important concepts such as ‘sustainable management’, ‘future generations’, and the ‘precautionary principle’ to help direct society toward a better balance with nature. However, concepts alone will not create a world that is in sync with nature. To live in balance we need a game plan that incorporates these concepts and allows us to know and understand the interests at stake.
The 5 Year Management Plan (2006–2011) for the Polar Bear/Nanuk (Ursus maritimus) in Newfoundland and Labrador is an attempt to make the concept of sustainable management into a realisable goal of sustainably managing polar bears that inhabit Labrador.472 While using management plans for species preservation is relatively new, the Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan goes even further than most plans by including not only scientific and local knowledge, but also the traditional knowledge of Nain elders on the polar bear's habitat, climate change, human encounters, and traditional hunting.473 This inclusive approach creates a report focused on sustainable management that is accessible to the public through pictures, stories, and scientific data.
The polar bear faces threats from oil exploration, climate change, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and increased human encounters474 that endanger the very survival of the great white bear. Because of these increasing threats and because studies highlight the species' slow reproductive rate,475 Newfoundland and Labrador has declared the polar bear ‘vulnerable’ under the provincial Endangered Species Act.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan's objective is ‘to ensure the long term health and viability of the species in Newfoundland and Labrador’.476 Other management plans that address polar bears in Canada are solely about hunting but the Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan recognised the impacts of climate change and other influences on the sustainable management of the polar bear.477 Addressing just one aspect that is threatening a species is not going to result in effective and efficient management and is contradictory to the concept of sustainable management.
The objective of a management plan is not simply to determine the population of a species and then set hunt quotas, but to understand the interests of stakeholders, whether they be economic, cultural, conservational or spiritual. The exact number of polar bears in the Davis Strait sub-population was unknown at the time of this writing and is one of the ‘knowledge gaps’ clearly detailed in the management plan,478 one of many such gaps that reveal the need for more scientific, local, and traditional research and understanding.
Reports and documents usually become dated, and often irrelevant, soon after publication. The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan (2006 – 2011) acknowledges that to be sustainable it must be a ‘living document’ that will be re-evaluated and revised before the end of the period as new information becomes available.479 Priorities and plans may be adapted when new scientific, local, or traditional knowledge on the population of Davis Strait polar bears becomes available.
Duplication of efforts and policies is common when departments, jurisdictions, and organisations fail to have open discussions about their concerns and efforts. Because Polar Bears, like most animals, are not aware of provincial, federal and regional borders there is a ‘need to insure there is inter-jurisdictional cooperation when it comes to conserving the Davis Strait polar bear sub-population’.480 As shown in Map. 1, the Davis Strait sub-population migrates through Newfoundland and Labrador, the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area (the northern part of Newfoundland and Labrador), Quebec, Greenland, and Nunavut.481 If each of these jurisdictions were to embark on autonomous management plans, they would likely provide ineffective and limited sustainable management of the Davis Strait population of polar bears.482
Developing isolated management plans for any of the jurisdictions (federal, provincial, or aboriginal) with patchwork legislation and public messaging creates the prospect of gaps that may do more harm than good. Increasingly, with greater acknowledgement of the value of local involvement and knowledge, policies, and assessments are employing cooperative management schemes and collaborative efforts to be inclusive of all stakeholders.
In November 2007, the David Suzuki Foundation produced a report, Canada's Polar Bear: Falling Through the Cracks? to provide direction for provinces, territories, and the federal government to deal with management of polar bear populations as there are complicated jurisdiction concerns.483 The Suzuki Foundation acknowledges that ‘Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province that has written a management plan for the species, which was co-created by the Nunatsiavut government’,484 and recommends that ‘[e]very province and territory where the polar bear is found must develop and implement a polar bear management plan to mitigate threats and plan adaptation measures’.485
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan did an excellent job, not only in identifying the stakeholders but also in creating a framework for meaningful cooperation and collaboration. In its final recommendation, the Suzuki Foundation report reiterates the cooperative efforts used in this management plan and notes that ‘the federal government should exert leadership in managing the larger ecosystems in which federal protected areas exist, by encouraging comanagement arrangements with shared jurisdiction and cooperative decision making between federal/provincial/territorial governments, aboriginal peoples and local communities’.486
The recent campaign by climate change activists to use the polar bear as the icon of the potential effects of climate change is an example of an effort in which discussions with all stakeholders did not take place. ‘While Canadian polar bears roam the Arctic oblivious to the international politics swirling around them, Inuit are bracing for another blow to our traditional pursuits and local economy. It comes in the form of a distant political jurisdiction – the United States Fish and Wildlife Service – listing the polar bear as “threatened”’.487 While many climate change activists saw that move as a step towards recognition of the dangers of climate change and possibly more protection for the polar bear, they gave little regard for the thousands of years the Inuit communities have interacted with the polar bear. By isolating the Inuit Community from the process lessens the effectiveness of sustainable management. Obviously, the Inuit community has an important role in the sustainable management of the polar bear.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan acknowledged the Inuit's connection to the polar bear by including Nanuk, the Inuit name for the polar bear, beside the scientific reference name, Ursus maritimus in its title.488 The Davis Strait sub-population, like many polar bear populations, is closely connected to the culture and tradition of the people who co-inhabit their frozen land and sea. ‘Polar bear’ is the western name for majestic white bear but throughout its range in the far north the polar bear is Nanuk, Pihoqahiak (the ever-wandering one), isbjørn (the ice bear), Tornassuk (master of the helping spirits), biely medved (white bear), gyp (grandfather), and qoi (stepfather).489 Acknowledging indigenous names and concepts is an important part of connecting the plan to the desires of indigenous communities that inhabit the same land as the species.
Canada recognizes this connection to the polar bear as a mythological creature and as a part of their traditional hunting rights through numerous Inuit land claim agreements.490 Currently, the Inuit have exclusive rights to harvest six polar bears annually along the Labrador coast.491 Not including Inuit traditional knowledge and rights in the management plan, and subsequently, excluding representatives from the Nunatsiavut Government, would have left a large gap in the management of the polar bear and negated the province's legislated responsibility to co-manage wildlife with the Nunatsiavut Government. The innovation of the Management Plan under the lens of sustainable governance is that it acknowledges all stakeholders and threats, and places value on different sources of knowledge to manage the Davis Strait polar bear in an inclusive manner. 492
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan takes extra efforts to be inclusive to all stakeholders including the public. Often policy makers and scientists write plans, reports, and legislation in a language that is hard for those outside their field to understand. However, the stories, pictures, maps, and plain language in this plan make it accessible and interesting to the public, which also has a role to play in the sustainable management scheme.
The plain language is useful because the Management Plan's ‘target audiences’ are coastal communities, eco-tourism companies, national parks staff, resource management employees, and companies working in areas frequented by polar bears.493 The effort to write in accessible and interesting language assists in fulfilling the objectives of the management plan in education and stewardship and should strengthen commitment to the concepts presented in the report. Management plans increase their adoptability when they are available in all languages employed by the stakeholders including indigenous.
As outlined earlier, the Management Plan has established new ground by addressing species management with regard to breadth, stakeholders, flexibility, and inclusiveness. It recognizes that neither scientists in a centralized government with little connection to the local communities nor local communities without adequate resources can sustainably manage a species. It takes a village.
The success of the Management Plan as an example of sustainable management of the Davis Strait polar bear population is that it is a ‘living document’. It encapsulates current scientific, local, and indigenous knowledge about the polar bear along the Labrador coast. It also establishes who is responsible and accountable if the Management Plan's objectives are left unanswered throughout the five years.
Newfoundland and Labrador was required to create a management plan. However, it was not required to create a document that is accessible to the public and of the breadth that it covered.494 The Management Plan recognized early that ‘successful conservation and management of polar bears is dependent on the cooperation and in many instances collaboration of various governments, responsible management agencies and others with a stake or legitimate interest in polar bear conservation’.495
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan could be strengthened if more jurisdictions such as the Canadian Federal Government, Quebec, Nunavut, and Greenland sign on. While the Management Plan framers went out of their way to include local, indigenous, and provincial representatives and knowledge, they did not include all stakeholders who have an interest in the polar bear or the polar bear's habitat, which overlaps multiple countries, provinces, and governments.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan implements the precautionary principle, not in the traditional sense of protecting all land and stopping all economic, cultural, or spiritual practises in relationship to the species, but in the recognition that these discussions will continue. This approach to the precautionary principle was highlighted in the plan where it states that ‘prior to putting in place a habitat protection strategy such important areas have to be identified and mapped’ (bold in original text). Thus the Plan cautions against simply protecting more habitat area recognises that the threats are diverse and complicated. Approaching the precautionary principle in this manner is aligned with the concept of sustainable management.
A notable limitation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan as an example of sustainable management is its lack of an evaluation structure.496 If the Plan were to adopt concrete targets, it could further enhance the accountability and effectiveness of the report. Setting targets is a way of tracking successes and overcoming weaknesses to continue towards sustainable management for each partner and government involved.
Biological conservation has been hampered by fragmented mandates and divisions between scientists, policy makers, businesses, and communities. Often this fragmentation creates duplication and conflicting strategies even within the same level of government. In bringing all stakeholders to the drafting table, as the polar bear management team did, policy and implementation can be more effective and more efficient.
The Suzuki Foundation recognizes the effectiveness of the Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan as a ‘potential legislative tool available to governments, management plans are likely the most appropriate means for developing effective mitigation and adaptation measures to address the threats facing polar bears’.497 The Suzuki report recommends that other jurisdictions follow Newfoundland and Labrador in their management of the polar bear but cautions that provincial or indigenous nation's management plans might be limited due to jurisdictional issues and might create a patchwork of legislation and policy.
The Management Plan is a tremendous first step in the sustainable management of the polar bear, but implementing it is the only way to see the full impact of the sustainable goals and objectives.498 The Management Plan is significant to the development of governance for sustainability because if we are to move toward sustainability we need to challenge our current simplistic western constructs. We need to acknowledge and recognize that not all process occurs in solitary at one moment in time and that it takes a village to create sustainability.
Map. 1: Popular Bear Populations/Status in Canada
Source: Minutes of the 14th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC PBSG, Seattle, 20–24, June, 2005.
471 Christina MacLeod is a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. She lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
472 Brazil, J. and Goudie, J. A 5 Year Management Plan (2006–2011) for the Polar Bear/Nanuk (Ursus maritimus) in Newfoundland and Labrador (Wildlife Division, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Nunatsiavut Government, 2006).
473 ‘Under the federal Species at Risk Act, a management plan must include measures for the conservation of the species that the Minister of Environment considers appropriate for species of special concern. Especially, a management plan is a plan to redirect the course of decline of the species to prevent it from becoming endangered or threatened by addressing and mitigating the main threats that it faces’. David Suzuki Foundation Canada's Polar Bear: Falling Through the Cracks? November 2007, www.davidsuzuki.org/files/SWAG/DSF-Polar-Bear.pdf, pp.11. (accessed 19 February 2008)
474 ‘[T]he polar bear's hunting platform – sea ice – is melting at an unprecedented rate due to global warming. Without this sea ice, the future of all polar bears in Canada is uncertain’; Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being discovered in the flesh and organs of polar bears. POPs include pesticides and industrial chemicals such as PBDEs (toxic flame retardants), PCBs (used in plastics and dioxins (used in pulp and paper bleaching and a combustion by-product) in Suzuki Foundation Report, p.1; also see IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, www.pbsg.npolar.no/ [accessed on 18 February 2008].
475 Endangered Species Act, S.N.L. 2001, c. E-10.1.
476 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. ii.
477 Personal Communication with Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, 5 March 2008.
478 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p.16.
479 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. vi.
480 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. v.
481 The data analyzed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan ‘suggest that weekly movements can be in the thousands of kilometres while an activity area can be tens of thousands of square kilometres’. Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. 4.
482 Minutes of the 14th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC PBSG, Seattle, 20–24, June, 2005, pp. 35, 36.
483 Suzuki Foundation Report.
484 Mclean, E., ‘Protecting polar bears; People are seeing more of the majestic white bear in Labrador, but scientists say the species may still be in danger’, The Telegram, 2 March 2008, p. A1.
485 Suzuki Foundation Report, p. 20.
486 Suzuki Foundation Report, p.11.
487 Simon, M. ‘Polar Bear Politics’, Above & Beyond, March/April 2008, p.61.
488 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan.
489 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. 1.
490 See Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement Act, S.N.L. 2004, c.L–3.1.
491 12.3.6 of Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement ‘Inuit have the exclusive right to Harvest, throughout the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area, the Total Allowable Harvest of polar bears established by the Province or in or for Newfoundland and Labrador’. Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement Act, S.N.L. 2004, c.L–3.1.
492 ‘[T]he goals, objectives and management recommendations identified in the plan are based on available scientific, local and aboriginal knowledge and are the subject to modifications resulting from new finding and revised objectives’ in Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. ii.
493 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan, p. 18.
494 ‘The Endangered Species Act requires release of a recovery plan within one year of designation for endangered species and two years for threatened species’. Endangered Species Act, S.N.L. 2001, c.E–10.1, ss. 14(2); A management plan must be prepared within three years for vulnerable species. Recovery plans are required for critical habitat ‘where appropriate’ Endangered Species Act, S.N.L. 2001, c.E-10.1, s. 23(b).
495 Newfoundland and Labrador Management Plan p. 19.
496 Personal communication with Rachel Plotkin 5 March 2008.
497 Suzuki Foundation Report p. 19.
498 Personal communication with Rachel Plotkin 5 March 2008.
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