Greenland publishes revised polar bear policy | Polarjournal
In Greenland, the relationship with polar bears is mixed. On the one hand they want to keep them away from people, on the other hand they want to see them, show them, protect them and also hunt them. The government’s regulations seek to address all of these issues. Image: Dr Michael Wenger

Living in the Arctic means not only coping with the harsh climatic environment, but also with the fact that you share your habitat with the largest land predator on earth, the polar bear. But living together is not easy nowadays, especially when different aspects like traditional way of life and the reality about the situation of the king of the Arctic collide. Greenland is a good example of this, where the government is trying to address all aspects with now revised regulations.

More protection for polar bears in southeastern Greenland and for females with cubs, new regulations and a permit for polar bear sightseeing, and easier handling of polar bears entering settlements. In summary, these are the key points of the new regulations for dealing with polar bears in Greenland, which were recently adopted and published by the Greenlandic government. By this, the Naalakkersuisut (government) wants to adapt to the new circumstances of the situation of the animals on its territory concerning the economy, society and nature conservation.

Polar bear hunting is advocated in Greenland and the other Arctic regions as part of the way of life and tradition and will continue to be allowed. At the same time, Greenland also wants to accommodate research, nature conservation and tourism with the new regulations. Image: Dr Michael Wenger

For some time, the existing laws and regulations governing the coexistence between humans and animals in Greenland had been criticized from various sides. Especially the handling of polar bears, which increasingly appeared in settlements, and the increasing tourism were in the center of criticism.

On one side were (and are) conservationists calling for more protection from hunters and tourists who add to the pressure on the polar bear population, on the other side hunters and trappers who objected to the quota system and cumbersome laws especially for bears that get too close to settlements.

And then there were the scientists who showed that southeast Greenland is home to a new polar bear population that is better adapted to climate change and needs to be protected.

And there were also local and national tourism officials who were bothered by the fact that foreign tour operators could show polar bears to their guests when they were cruising around the fjords, but they themsleves had been prevented from doing so by law.

In short, Greenland’s government was criticized from all sides. That is why for a month they discussed new measures and regulations, which were incorporated into the law “on the capture and protection of polar bears”. These have now been in force since March 7, and the minister responsible, Karl Tobiassen, is very pleased with the result, as significant changes have been achieved.

One of the new regulations stipulates that anyone who wants to show polar bears to their guests as a Greenlandic tour operator in the future can offer this on the condition that an appropriate permit has been obtained and that the animals are not hunted. In addition, a minimum distance of 200 meters must be maintained and the provider must be able to guarantee the safety of animals and humans at all times. Other regulations deal more intensively with the protection of predators. Thus, the newly discovered population in southeastern Greenland is now under protection and may no longer be actively sought out and hunted. Further, animals may no longer be hunted beyond population limits, and females with cubs are not subject to the eased regulations for dealing with “problem bears,” meaning they remain more protected.

A number of other orders also redefine how to deal with polar bears that enter settlements. In the future, licensed hunters will be allowed to shoot animals without a permit if there is a threat. The killed bear then belongs to the hunter, who may sell the resulting products, even without official permission if necessary. The catch must then only be subsequently reported. In addition, in the future, the government must include and consider the level of knowledge of local hunters when establishing catch quotas for polar bears. “It is good that the new implementing regulation includes the knowledge of hunters, so that the government must also take this into account in connection with the annual setting of polar bear quotas,” emphasizes Karl Tobiassen. His Ministry of Fisheries and Hunting is responsible for the implementation and control of the new laws. Whether criticism of him and the government will grow quieter overall with the new regulations, or even fall silent altogether, remains to be seen over the next few years.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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