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Tourism Carrying Capacity Review of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area: Summary, Key Findings, and Recommendations.

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Summary, Key Findings, and
Recommendations
Tourism Carrying Capacity Review of the
Churchill Wildlife Management Area:
Prepared for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship
Tourism Carrying Capacity Review of the
Churchill Wildlife Management Area:
Prepared for:
Manitoba Conservation
and Water Stewardship
Summary, Key Findings, and Recommendations
July 24, 2015
Contact:
Jessica Elliott
Jessica.Elliott@gov.mb.ca
1.204.945.4365
Contact:
Marc Nelitz, Senior Systems Ecologist
mnelitz@essa.com
1.604.677.9554
Suggested Citation:
Nelitz, M., C. Wedeles, R.H. Lemelin, B. Beardmore, and D. Abraham. 2015.
Tourism Carrying Capacity Review of the Churchill Wildlife Management
Area: Summary, Key Findings, and Recommendations. Prepared for
Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, Winnipeg, MB by ESSA
Technologies Ltd., Vancouver, BC.
Cover Photo:
Polar Bear on Ice, Churchill, Manitoba (Chris Wedeles, AVES Ltd., 2014)
ESSA Technologies Ltd.
Vancouver, BC Canada V6H 3H4
www.essa.com
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Summary, Key Findings, & Recommendations
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents ................................................................................................................................................... i
List of Figures ........................................................................................................................................................ ii
List of Tables ......................................................................................................................................................... iii
Foreword from the Authors .................................................................................................................................. iv
Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................................................... v
About this Report ................................................................................................................................................. vi
1. Introduction ..................................................................................................................................................... 1
2. Approach ........................................................................................................................................................ 3
3. Management Context ..................................................................................................................................... 6
3.1 Valued Components ......................................................................................................................... 6
3.2 Management Strategies .................................................................................................................. 40
4. Key Findings ................................................................................................................................................. 56
5. Recommendations ....................................................................................................................................... 61
6. Literature Cited ............................................................................................................................................. 69
Appendix A: Pathways-of-Effect and Supporting Evidence .............................................................................. A-1
Appendix B: Literature Cited in Conceptual Models .......................................................................................... B-1
Appendix C: Individuals Involved in Technical Review and Stakeholder Consultations ................................... C-1
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List of Figures
Figure 1: Map of a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) and the area of
focus for this review (shaded box). .................................................................................................. 2
Figure 2: Map of vehicle routes driven by tour operators on the designated off-road trail network in
the Churchill Wildlife Management Area during two separate outings in October of the
2014 polar bear season. .................................................................................................................. 8
Figure 3: Graphs of the daily average number of bears seen over recent years as reported by tour
operators. ...................................................................................................................................... 10
Figure 4: Visitor preferences for different statistically significant characteristics of the polar bear
viewing experience, presented on a common scale of visitor satisfaction .................................... 12
Figure 5: Number of bear occurrences and bears handled from 1969 to 2013 as reported by the
Polar Bear Alert (PBA) Program. ................................................................................................... 14
Figure 6: Diagram showing the approximate timing of polar bear activities, snow/ice cover, and
tourism operations in Western Hudson Bay. ................................................................................. 16
Figure 7: Conceptual model illustrating linkages and pathways-of-effect that influence polar bears,
other wildlife, and subarctic habitats in Western Hudson Bay based on a summary of
available scientific evidence and peer review. .............................................................................. 19
Figure 8: Air photo mosaic from 1947 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
representing the landscape prior to any human development. ..................................................... 22
Figure 9: Air photo mosaic from 1974 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
representing the landscape following a period of military presence and prior to
development of the first tourism operations. ................................................................................. 23
Figure 10: Air photo mosaic from 1993 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
representing the landscape at a mid-point in the timeline of development of tourism
operations. ..................................................................................................................................... 24
Figure 11: Air photo mosaic from 2006 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
representing the landscape under recent tourism operations. ...................................................... 25
Figure 12: Images of the physical disturbance to sub-arctic habitats in the Churchill Wildlife
Management Area as a result of vehicle use. ............................................................................... 26
Figure 13: Expert ratings on the strength of influence of the various pathways-of-effect influencing
polar bears using a five-point scale from least to most important. ................................................ 29
Figure 14: Expert ratings on the certainty of evidence underlying various pathways-of-effect
influencing polar bears using a six-point scale from not applicable to theoretically a
concern to widespread agreement. ............................................................................................... 31
Figure 15: Expert ratings on a ranking of importance of the tourism-related pathways-of-effect
influencing polar bears. ................................................................................................................. 32
Figure 16: Expert ratings on a ranking of importance of management actions based on their
potential to have an influence on polar bears using a five-point scale from least to most
important. ...................................................................................................................................... 32
Figure 17: Modelled projections of changes in Arctic sea ice extent (in millions of square km) under
different emissions scenarios (from Stroeve et al. 2007). ............................................................. 34
Figure 18: Average temperature deviations from the long term average during the summer from two
climate stations along the Hudson Bay coastline .......................................................................... 35
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List of Tables
Table 1: Overview of the pathways-of-effect illustrated in Figure 7. ............................................................ 20
Table 2: Complete list of all individual pathways-of-effect illustrated in Figure 7 and described in
more detail in Appendix A. ............................................................................................................ 28
Table 3: Summary of the categories of management actions presented to experts to elicit their
judgments on factors influencing polar bears. ............................................................................... 33
Table 4: Summary of key drivers/uncertainties that influence wildlife and habitats under different
plausible scenarios of future change in Western Hudson Bay. ..................................................... 36
Table 5: Rating of management actions and potential interaction with valued components
indicated as positive (+), negative (-), both positive and negative (+/-), no change, or
uncertain relative to the current situation.. .................................................................................... 53
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Foreword from the Authors
People and bears have had a long history of interaction in the Churchill area, as well as
more broadly across Hudson Bay. Although polar bears can be found in many other places
around the world, the congregation of bears around Churchill is exceptional. The geography
of Western Hudson Bay and ecology of this population means that the relative
concentration and predictability of bear migration in the late fall is unique. Over the last
several decades a tourism industry has grown, with oversight by the Manitoba government,
to take advantage of these conditions and visitor demands to see polar bears in sub-arctic
habitats. For those in the community, whether directly or indirectly involved in tourism, some
may have noticed growing tensions related to the way in which tourism has been managed
over recent years. As such, emotions are intense for some people given that individual
livelihoods and the community’s well-being are affected by the way tourism has been
managed in the past and will continue to be in the future. We appreciate and respect the
unique social, ecological, and economic context of Churchill.
In undertaking this carrying capacity review, it has been our intention to provide an impartial
review and summary of what we understand to be the current situation. In doing so, we
recognize and deliberately separate evidence or observations about social, ecological, or
economic conditions from preferences and values that reflect what people want. This
distinction is important. Evidence reflects a statement of facts about the ways things are
without an interpretation about whether these things are desirable or not. Preferences refer
to the choices people make based on an interpretation of facts. There is no single truth or a
right and wrong choice that underlie people’s preferences. Choices are made as a result of
trade-offs among the competing things that people want (e.g., more economic development
may result in more impacts on the environment while a more pristine environment may
result in less economic development). In this report, we present our findings based on a
summary of available evidence and understanding of stakeholder preferences. We provide
our professional judgments on how we believe changes in management might lead to
changes in the different things that people care about. It is neither our intent nor our role to
recommend a decision on how polar bear viewing within a constrained portion of the
Churchill Wildlife Management Area should be managed going forward. That decision is left
to the relevant decision-makers who need to assess the pros and cons of different options
to make the trade-offs across the different things that the community of Churchill and
province of Manitoba value.
We further disclose that none of the report authors have been influenced while preparing
this report and none have a vested interest in the way Churchill’s tourism operations are
managed. As such, this report represents the professional judgments of the authors, not
those of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. Although this report draws upon a
large amount of scientific and stakeholder information, we acknowledge that we have not
been able to consider everything about Churchill and its polar bears.
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Acknowledgements
We are grateful to the many people who contributed information to help us understand the
social, ecological and economic context for this review. These people included a mix with
different geographies (inside/outside Churchill) and different perspectives/connections to
polar bears (public, tour operators, educators, managers, conservationists, scientists). In
particular, we are grateful to the many visitors to Churchill who responded to a visitor
experience survey, to members of the Churchill public who attended an open house and
responded to a public survey, an informal group of stakeholders who met with us to share
their perspectives on the community (see Appendix C), bears, and tourism activities, as well
as a group of technical experts who provided a peer review of parts of our work (see
Appendix C). Without the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience of these people,
this review would not have been possible. We are also extremely thankful for the
contributions of Ashleigh Hall, Pierce Roberts, and Jessica Elliott with Manitoba
Conservation and Water Stewardship who provided us with useful insights, guidance, and
support to see this work through to its completion.
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About this Report
Polar bears are an iconic species for the province of Manitoba and town of Churchill. The
town has a long history of interactions with polar bears which includes a tourism industry
that has been in operation since the 1970s. More recently, between 6,000 and 10,000
visitors are drawn to view polar bears around Churchill each year. Tourism peaks in the late
fall as polar bears congregate close to the shoreline waiting for ice to form on Hudson Bay
in an area known as the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA), a provincially
managed landscape less than 10 km east of Churchill. Two companies are permitted by the
provincial government to operate tundra vehicles along a designated off-road trail network
in the CWMA for the purpose of providing polar bear viewing opportunities to tourists. For
many years the number of permitted off-road tundra vehicles has remained the same.
In 2014, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship requested an independent review
to assess the ecological and sociological carrying capacity of commercial ecotourism
operating in the designated off-road trail network. The specific goals of this review were to:
(1) assess the cumulative impacts of tourism activities; (2) identify the amount of tourism
use that can be supported; (3) determine the ecological and social carrying capacity of the
area; and (4) understand the implications of climate change on the area’s carrying capacity.
This report provides a summary of evidence and key findings from the ecological and
sociological carrying capacity review, as well as a set of recommendations to inform the
operation and management of tourism activities in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.
This review used a multi-criteria decision making approach to summarize information to
better understand the ecological and sociological carrying capacity of tourism in the
Churchill area. This approach recognizes that identifying the capacity of the area can not
necessarily be defined as a single limit on tourism. Multiple limits may exist for which the
preference among them depends on what stakeholders want and the balance of benefits
and costs that decision makers deem appropriate. This review deliberately recognizes and
separates evidence or observations about social, ecological, or economic conditions from
preferences and values that reflect what people want. Although there is a rich basis of
information about Western Hudson Bay polar bears, sub-arctic habitats, and the community
of Churchill, there is a relatively weak understanding about some of the interactions among
these factors and their relationship to tourism. To address this gap, structured approaches
were also used for eliciting the preferences of polar bear tourists, values from stakeholders,
and judgments from technical experts to provide additional information to support this study.
Stakeholder consultations, a visitor experience survey, and a review of the available
evidence revealed several key findings about the social context for managing polar bear
opportunities in the CWMA. The quality of the visitor experience, safety of the community,
reputation of the community, community cohesion, and cultural connections were identified
as core values that stakeholders are most concerned about. Although the tourism industry
has been in operation since the 1970s there are few data that quantitatively describe the
level of tourism since that time, and more recently no standardized data available to
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describe the number of vehicles and their proximity to bears over the course of the tourist
season. A survey of 72 visitors in the 2014 tourist season identified the number of bears
and wildlife species seen as having significant positive effects on the visitor experience. The
distance to nearest bear and number of vehicles viewing bears at the same time had a
negative influence on the visitor experience, meaning that visitors are most satisfied when
they see bears up close and with fewer other vehicles. A review of data from the Polar Bear
Alert Program shows that the number of bear occurrences around Churchill has steadily
been increasing over the last several decades, with supplemental evidence suggesting that
this trend is likely due to a combination of human interventions (e.g., shift in the focus of the
Alert Program from destruction to prevention) and changing environmental conditions (e.g.,
changes in the timing of sea ice formation). Although there is evidence that human activities
can increase potential for encounters with bears (e.g., proximity of bears to people,
presence of attractants, and food-conditioning of bears), due to a lack of data it is unknown
whether tourism since the 1970s has had any contributing influence on this pattern of bear
occurrences around Churchill.
The environmental context for the Western Hudson Bay ecosystem was informed by a rich
foundation of scientific information, stakeholder consultations, and judgments from a group
of highly knowledgeable technical experts. The well-being of polar bears, well-being of other
wildlife, and condition of sub-arctic habitats were the core environmental values that
stakeholders are most concerned about. The ecology of the Western Hudson Bay
population of polar bears (~1,000 individuals) is relatively well understood and is one of the
most well studied populations in the world. However, there is some unresolved
confusion/uncertainty around the true status and abundance of the Western Hudson Bay
population due to uncertainty about the size of the historic population, varying scientific
estimates of recent population size, and differences between scientific and anecdotal
observations. Within the CWMA air photo evidence from 1947 to 2006 shows an increasing
footprint/disturbance of the trail network due to military activity (initially) and tourism activity
(more recently), though this area represents a relatively limited portion compared to the
extent of coastline along which bears can migrate onto the ice. Knowledgeable technical
experts rated pathways involving climate change as having the most important influence on
polar bears, in particular changes to the timing and duration of se ice leading to impacts on
marine feeding opportunities, changes in the availability of marine prey, habitat
displacement, and impacts on denning success. Three pathways related to tourism
(associated with habituation of bears, avoidance behaviour of bears, and damage to sub-
arctic habitats) were rated as less important than climate related pathways, though the
certainty of evidence for all tourism pathways was generally rated as being preliminary. As
such, the potential impacts related to the tourism industry are best considered from a short-
term perspective as compared to the more pervasive and disruptive impacts of climate
change in the medium to long term. Although there is some uncertainty around the timing of
changes associated with climate change, future scenarios consistently suggest that climate
impacts will lead to negative outcomes for polar bears and sub-arctic habitats.
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Although economic considerations were beyond the scope of this review, stakeholder
consultations and a preliminary review of publically available information provided some
context on the importance of economic objectives to Churchill and its polar bear tourism
industry. Stakeholders were concerned about six economic considerations related to
financial benefits and economic welfare of the community, which included:
financial benefits from polar bear tourism;
financial benefits from other resource uses;
local distribution of benefits;
protection of historic/current investments in tourism;
opportunities for future investments; and
certainty of business opportunities.
Few data are available to describe the current economic context for Churchill, although
some data are available describing the financial benefits of polar bear tourism, non-market
value of polar bears, and investments of different organizations in polar bears and the
related tourism industry. Economic considerations were identified as the most contentious
to address since they represent the greatest divergence of opinion across stakeholders
when compared to social and economic objectives.
Beyond maintaining current management approaches, stakeholders identified 18 additional
actions that could be used to address the varying social, environmental, and economic
valued components around polar bear tourism listed above. These actions related to
changes in the permitting process, permit conditions, vehicle management, lodge
management, access management, compliance/enforcement, research and monitoring, as
well as other actions. They tended to be positioned from one or a mix of four distinct
stakeholder perspectives, specifically in providing: (A) greater security for current operators,
(B) greater local access/benefits, (C) greater protection of the environment, or (D) greater
tourism benefits with the least environmental and social impact.
An informal stakeholder group was generally supportive of the following actions:
implementing a performance review/evaluation of permits;
clarifying performance standards/guidelines for permit holders;
clarifying training requirements for permit holders;
maintaining current number of allowable vehicles;
ensuring minimum seat availability for “special” situations;
enhancing in-season monitoring of compliance and enforcement of permit
conditions;
enhancing research & monitoring of social, environmental, and economic conditions;
and
improving communication, engagement, and education.
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While the same group was generally unsupportive of these actions:
reducing the number of allowable vehicles;
changing allocation of vehicles between existing permit holders;
disallowing lodges; and
improving condition of off-road trail network.
The greatest level of disagreement among the group emerged around the following:
clarifying rules of permit access/renewal;
changing oversight for managing permits;
changing allocation of vehicles among existing/new permit holders;
expanding areas to access; and
allowing other forms of access to CWMA.
Each action was seen as addressing a different combination of valued components. In
some cases several actions likely need to be implemented jointly to be fully effective.
Noteworthy is that stakeholders were in general agreement to maintain the current number
of vehicles (i.e., there were no suggestions to increase the number of tundra vehicles).
Changes in allocation of vehicles among existing/new operators and expanding the areas to
access within the CWMA were seen as ways of potentially improving tourism benefits and
changing the distribution of benefits within the community, though these actions are also the
most contentious/challenging to implement given disagreements among stakeholders.
Actions related to training, performance, compliance, and research were noted by
stakeholders as having many benefits with few adverse effects. Technical experts
consistently rated the number of tundra vehicles and managing the spatial extent of access
as the actions having the most important influence on polar bears. Although the specific
details around these actions have yet to be described, the solution to improved
management likely lies in some combination of these actions.
A review of eight other locations providing polar bear tourism opportunities from around the
world revealed that Churchill and Svalbard, Norway are the most comparable with each
supporting significant numbers of visitors. Most other locations provide smaller scale
viewing opportunities. Recently developed destinations tend to employ a high standard of
safety and environmental protection alongside collaborative approaches to managing
tourism opportunities. Experience from these locations suggests that too few restrictions
can overwhelm the resource (habituation, food conditioning), degrade the tourism product,
increase risk and stress on wildlife and polar bear viewers (in some instances leading to
loss of life), and can potentially result in visitors seeking alternative destinations to view
these animals. Too many restrictions can curtail innovations or hinder development of new
complimentary products to polar bear tourism.
An assessment of the key findings from this review revealed that there are three
fundamental recommendations (in no order of importance) that can help improve upon the
current management situation.
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Recommendation #1: Address knowledge gaps to improve understanding about the current
context and how different management actions might affect the values that stakeholders
care about since existing knowledge gaps are leading to disagreements among
stakeholders. In particular, the following knowledge gaps were identified:
Data describing the level of tourism activity of the industry including the number of
daily vehicle trips and proximity of vehicles to bears over the course of each polar
bear viewing season;
Studies examining the effect of number and proximity of tundra vehicles on bear
habituation and if appropriate, identifying measures to mitigate impacts on habituation;
Improvements to the digitally mapped location of the designated off-road trail network;
Spatial information on the condition of the designated off-road trail network and
impacts on sub-arctic habitats;
Measures of visitor satisfaction with the tourism experience and community
satisfaction with the way in which polar bear tourism operations are being managed;
Standardized estimates of population size of Western Hudson Bay polar bears;
Status and trends of other wildlife species that provide value to eco-tourism;
Consistent monitoring of local changes in duration and timing of sea ice extent and
timing of polar bear migration onto the sea ice; and
Economic information on the financial benefits of major tourism opportunities in
Churchill and distribution of those benefits, alongside an improved understanding
about the factors that influence the generation and distribution of benefits.
It will be important to design and implement data collection in a way that ensures knowledge
gaps are sufficiently addressed. Otherwise if data collection is poorly designed and
implemented, conflicts due to knowledge gaps may remain. Rigorous data collection
requires ensuring high data quality and appropriate consideration of data governance,
prioritization, evaluation design, sampling design, and sampling protocols.
Recommendation #2: Resolve disagreements in stakeholder preferences to reduce
conflict/improve community cohesion. The following issues were identified as being the
most contentious to resolve:
A lack of common alignment of stakeholders with the six different economic
components listed above (related to financial benefits and economic welfare), since
these values align most closely with the desired outcomes for different stakeholder
interests; and
Disagreement in support among stakeholders for the following actions:
o clarifying rules of permit access/renewal
o changing oversight for managing permits
o changing allocation of vehicles among existing/new permit holders
o expanding areas to access
o allowing other forms of access to CWMA
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As a starting point, a voluntary or third party facilitated negotiation process that applies
principled negotiation techniques is advisable for enabling successful resolution.
Recommendation #3: Prepare the community for unavoidable changes in the environment
to strengthen the community, tourism industry, and local environment in the longer-term.
Churchill has undergone and will continue to undergo unavoidable changes in the
environment over the coming decades, largely as a result of climate change. Although there
is some uncertainty around the timing of these changes, future scenarios consistently
suggest that climate impacts will lead to negative outcomes for bears. An eventual decrease
in polar bears whether due to a decrease in abundance of the Western Hudson Bay
population or habitat displacement as a result of changing sea ice, overland migration, and
denning locations can be expected to have a negative impact on tourism. Hence, there is a
need to plan for the future and implement strategies that are robust to the forthcoming
changes, especially since preparations will require a long lead time to implement.
Longer-term actions can be viewed as operating at three scales. A first scale of actions
involve a subset of management measures identified through this review that were broadly
supported by stakeholders, have the potential to provide multiple benefits to the
environment and community, and help strengthen the information base for decision making:
Implementing a performance review/evaluation of permits;
Clarifying performance standards/guidelines for permit holders;
Clarifying training requirements for permit holders;
Maintaining current number of allowable vehicles;
Ensuring minimum seat availability for “special” situations;
Enhancing in-season monitoring of compliance and enforcement of permit conditions;
Enhancing research and monitoring of social, environmental, and economic
conditions; and
Improving communication, engagement, and education.
A second scale of actions relate to ensuring Churchill’s polar bear tourism product is as
robust as possible to be competitive in the global market for polar bear viewing. Such
actions will be particularly relevant for Churchill if there are changes in perceptions of
destination impacts and increases in travel costs for tourists as a result of transitioning
towards a low carbon economy. Best practice in the ecotourism industry suggests that
ecotourism products implement the following principles:
Minimize impact;
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect;
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts;
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation;
Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people; and
Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate.
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A last scale of actions relate to longer-term planning and adaptation of the tourism industry
to the impacts of climate change. The experience of others suggests that a diversity of
technological, managerial, policy and behavioural measures can be used in the tourism
sector to deal with climate impacts. These measures can include the following:
Raising awareness and educating tourists and operators of potential hazards and
what to do in the case of extreme events or incidents;
Diversifying tourism products and markets;
Strengthening the support for adaptation in the tourism industry;
‘Climate-proofing’ tourism policies and regulations;
Integrating the tourism sector into other government policies;
Including disaster, incident, and adaptation responses in tourism training curricula;
Locating (or translocating) tourist facilities/operations in low-risk areas to avoid
negative impacts and minimize the risk of poor investment decisions;
Promoting environmental management practices that protect natural ecosystems,
reduce external stresses, and use scarce natural resources efficiently; and
Strengthening relations between tourism facilities, operators and local communities, to
collaborate in preventing, mitigating, and responding to climate impacts.
The purpose of these recommendations is to provide guidance to decision makers and
stakeholders on what options are available to best support the multiple objectives for
managing the designated off-road trail network of the CWMA. Since the choice among
alternative paths forward requires a consideration of the pros and cons of different options,
the intention is not be overly prescriptive in how the CWMA and polar bear tourism should
be managed. Those decisions are left to the appropriate decision makers who need to
evaluate trade-offs across the different things that matter to interested and affected parties.
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1. Introduction
Churchill has a long history of interactions with polar bears (Struzik 2014). In recent
decades, this history has been punctuated by a tourism industry that draws between 6,000
and 10,000 visitors to Churchill each year and supports an abundance of social and
economic activities in the community and beyond (Dawson et al. 2010). The tourist season
peaks in the late fall as polar bears congregate close to the shoreline waiting for ice to form
on Hudson Bay. Most tourism activities occur within the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
(CWMA), a provincially managed landscape less than 10 km east of Churchill. Polar bear
tourism in the area has evolved into an experience that is entirely consistent with the
specific management objectives for the CWMA (CWS no date) and goals of Wildlife
Management Areas as laid out under the Manitoba Wildlife Act, which includes “provide[ing]
opportunities for wildlife viewing and commercial eco-tourism in a manner that will maintain
high quality viewing experiences and minimize the impact on the landscape and individual
animals”.
Two companies are permitted by the provincial government to provide polar bear viewing
experiences by operating tundra vehicles that access a designated off-road trail network in
the CWMA. This mode of transportation supports access to the challenging terrain and
helps protect people, polar bears, other wildlife, and sensitive sub-arctic habitats. In recent
decades, the number of permitted off-road tundra vehicles has remained the same. While
some in the community consider the number of vehicles to be excessive, some believe the
current situation is appropriate and others wish to see more opportunities. For instance,
current operators, and some other operators who would like to have access to the CWMA,
have requested authorization to operate additional off-road tundra vehicles in recent years.
In 2014, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship requested an independent review
to assess the ecological and sociological carrying capacity of commercial ecotourism
operating in the designated off-road trail network in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area
(see study area delineated by shading in Figure 1). Around the same time, Manitoba
Conservation and Water Stewardship began considering changes to the designation of the
Churchill Wildlife Management Area to a provincial park. Though the outcome of the park
proposal is unrelated to the results of the carrying capacity review, any changes in
designation of the CWMA would have some implications on the oversight and management
of tourism, even if the current rules around tourism do not change. Hence, the Parks and
Protected Spaces branch of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship has been
tasked with overseeing completion of the carrying capacity review.
This report provides a summary of results and key findings from the ecological and
sociological carrying capacity review. The specific goals of this review were to:
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(1) Assess the cumulative impacts of tourism activities in the designated trail network on
polar bears, other wildlife species, and sub-arctic habitats;
(2) Identify the amount of use, in particular the number of permitted tundra vehicles, that
can be supported by polar bears, other wildlife species, and sub-arctic habitats;
(3) Determine the ecological and social carrying capacity of the area, in terms of ecological
sustainability and the tourism experience; and
(4) Identify the implications of climate change in relation to the area’s carrying capacity.
An ultimate output from this review is to propose a set of recommendations related to the
operation and management of tourism activities and tundra vehicles in the designated off-
road trail network. These recommendations would then be considered by senior decision
makers within the Manitoba government and others who have a role in managing the
resource. Economic considerations were not an explicit part of this review. Recognizing the
importance of polar bear tourism to the community of Churchill and province of Manitoba,
this review did, however, require consulting with the public and stakeholders who are
directly and indirectly affected. A separate report summarizes the approach and results from
stakeholder consultations which sought to gather information around the critical issues
related to polar bear tourism, community well-being, and ecological integrity (see Nelitz and
Beardmore 2015).
Figure 1: Map of a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) and the
area of focus for this review (shaded box).
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2. Approach
In ecology, carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size that an
environment can sustain indefinitely given the resources available (Krebs 1994). Similarly,
tourism carrying capacity has been defined as the level of human activity an area can
accommodate without the area deteriorating, the resident community being adversely
affected or the quality of visitors experience declining (Shaw and Williams 2002). Implied
by the goals of this review is a desire to identify scientifically defensible boundaries on polar
bear tourism within which it can operate and be sustainable in the long-term given the
ecological and sociological constraints of the Churchill area. Identifying sustainable limits on
development are not necessarily defined by a single state, however. Multiple states may
exist since decisions around management constraints are value laden choices and are
based on what a decision-maker is trying to achieve (Lackey 2001). For instance, if a
decision-maker desires a pristine ecosystem, then an acceptable level of tourism may be
very low. On the other hand if there is interest in maximizing economic opportunities in the
short-term, a very intense level of tourism may be acceptable. Neither of these alternatives
is right or wrong. Choices depend on what people value and the trade-offs or weightings of
importance that decision makers place on different objectives (i.e., balance across
environmental protection, community cohesion, and economic opportunities). Scientific
information is an important consideration in a decision so that a manager understands the
social and ecological consequences of different levels of tourism, but ultimately
management limits are not established using science alone. As such, we approached the
problem of identifying the ecological and sociological carrying capacity, as well as
developing management recommendations, as best addressed using multi-criteria decision-
making techniques.
Many decades of research in decision analysis have shown that complex decisions are
made easier when structured using formal approaches that help decision-makers evaluate
the alternative choices available to them (Morgan and Henrion 1990; Clemen 1996). A key
advantage of multi-criteria decision techniques is that they help structure information in a
way that allows for a clear separation of scientific information, which is more neutral, from
the policy preferences of stakeholders, which are inherently value-laden. This advantage
can be important and sometimes even necessary when faced with making a decision in
situations with strongly contrasting stakeholder views. Structured Decision Making (Gregory
et al. 2012) is a specific approach that recommends the consideration of several key pieces
of information management objectives, alternatives, consequences, and trade-offs so
the evidence base and rationale underlying a decision are clear. This review uses a
Structured Decision Making framework to summarize information to better understand the
ecological and sociological carrying capacity of tourism in the Churchill area.
Management objectives are statements reflecting what decision makers and stakeholders
value, whether related to economic, environmental, or social/cultural components. For
instance, some may value the jobs and other economic benefits that polar bear tourism
provides for the community. Some may be concerned about the crowding of tundra vehicles
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and potential impact on the quality of the viewing experience and people’s willingness to
pay for it. Others may be concerned about the potential impacts of polar bear tourism on
sub-arctic habitats and their ability to support wildlife tourism at other times of year. We
engaged stakeholders and the community through a public open house, public survey, and
an informal stakeholder group to collect information on what matters to the community (see
Nelitz and Beardmore 2015). A summary of objectives underlying the management and
operation of polar bear tourism is presented in Section 3.1, framed as Valued Components.
This summary also includes an overview of the available evidence (e.g., scientific literature,
peer review and expert judgments, historic air photos, visitor information, operator data, and
government data) describing our understanding of how polar bear tourism, the community,
and the environment interact with a subset of these valued components.
Alternatives represent the range or combination of management strategies or actions that
could be implemented by provincial managers to achieve the management objectives of
interest. For example, some might believe that increasing the number of vehicles and extent
of the off-road trail network could provide greater economic benefits. Others might believe
that restoration or better maintenance of the off-road trail network might be the best way to
protect the environment, while others might believe that no changes are necessary since
the current situation provides the most benefits to the community. The choice among
options will be well informed by those individuals who are most familiar with the operations
and management of the CWMA. These individuals will also be interested in knowing how
well different management actions compare to find the best strategy that addresses the mix
of stakeholder concerns. Hence, we gathered information from the community and
stakeholders on management actions at the same time as engaging them to understand
what matters (i.e., public open house, public survey, and an informal stakeholder group, see
Nelitz and Beardmore 2015). We supplemented this information with a review of
management of polar bear tourism elsewhere. This information is summarized in Section
3.2, framed as Management Strategies. Though the focus of this review was to identify
actions that are within the control of the Manitoba government, we acknowledge that there
may be other actions within the control of the community or tour operators that may also
help achieve the objectives of interest.
Consequences represent the effects or performance of a management action relative to the
various management objectives. For instance, an increase in the number of tundra vehicles
(a management action) may increase the economic benefits to the community while
simultaneously having adverse effects on the quality of the visitor experience and leading to
increased stress or habituation of polar bears to people (different effects relative to different
objectives). In other words, consequences represent the pros and cons of different
alternatives. We used readily available data and our understanding of the interactions
among tourism, the community, and the environment to make inferences about how
different management actions would have different effects on a subset of management
objectives. A summary of the potential consequence of different management actions is
summarized in Section 3.2.3, Effect of Management Strategies on Valued Components.
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Trade-offs represent a comparison and evaluation of the performance of different
management actions against different objectives. Trade-offs involve value-based
considerations and a thoughtful weighting of different management objectives to understand
which are the most/least important and which actions result in (un)acceptable outcomes.
Trade-off evaluations eventually lead to a decision or selection of a preferred management
alternative. This review does not provide information on appropriate trade-offs. That
judgment is left to the relevant decision-makers best suited for making trade-offs among the
competing objectives of the community, stakeholders, and government managers. This
report does, however, provide a summary of Key Findings in Section 4 to clarify the current
information base for making a decision, and propose a set of Recommendations in Section
5 to help decision-makers make choices going forward.
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3. Management Context
3.1 Valued Components
The concept of “valued components” has its roots in the field of environmental assessment
where it has been applied for several decades (Beanlands and Duinker 1983). This concept
has proven useful since it encourages a scoping of the many possible issues that could be
included in an assessment into a narrower set of topics on which to focus. Given practical
constraints in resources (time, money, people), it would not be possible to assess impacts
of polar bear tourism and management on all possible “endpoints”. Furthermore, only a
subset of issues will align with the values and priorities of affected stakeholders, Aboriginal
groups, public, and/or government. Hence, valued components are typically identified
through a comprehensive review of available information and consultation with key
stakeholders. We employed various modes of engagement to identify the valued
components related polar bear tourism in and around Churchill (discussed in Section 2 and
Nelitz and Beardmore 2015). These valued components include:
Social
*Quality of the visitor experience
*Safety of community (e.g., visitors, operators/staff, and members of the public)
Reputation of community (e.g., town of Churchill and current operators)
Community cohesion (e.g., awareness and empathy for the environment,
relationships within the community)
Cultural values and connection to natural resources
Environmental
*Well-being of polar bears (e.g., behaviour, safety, and abundance)
*Well-being of other wildlife
*Condition of sub-arctic habitats
Economic
Financial benefits from polar bear tourism
Benefits from other resource uses (e.g., hunting & trapping, research & education)
Local distribution of benefits from polar bear tourism
Protection of current business investments in polar bear tourism
Future business opportunities in polar bear tourism
Certainty of conditions for business investments
The sections that follow provide a narrative describing these issues in varying levels of
detail. Where possible and within the scope of this review, we add a summary of the
evidence around factors that influence these valued components. Although we present the
full set of valued components here, we were only able to assess a subset of these since
some are out of scope (e.g., economic components) and others cannot easily be assessed
with available data (e.g., reputation of community, community cohesion). Components with
an asterisk (*) in the list above are described in more detail below.
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3.1.1 Social
Stakeholder consultations identified five critical social components that are affected by
management of polar bear tourism and the relevant portion of the CWMA:
There is interest in maintaining a high quality tourist experience in town, in the
vehicles, and in the CWMA for visitors who are attracted to town and its viewing
opportunities.
It is very important to maintain a high standard of safety for visitors involved in polar
bear tours, operators and staff who bring visitors on tours, and members of the
Churchill community who may have interactions with bears from the CWMA.
There is a strong interest in maintaining the reputation, credibility, and performance
of the tourism experience, including the town of Churchill as a world class
destination for polar bear viewing, and current operators who have worked for many
years to develop markets for tourism and a clientele from around the world.
It is important to maintain strong relationships among residents, operators, visitors,
government staff, and the CWMA itself. Since Churchill is a relatively small and
close knit community, community cohesion affects the functioning of the tourism
industry (e.g., management, operations, and delivery of supporting amenities). More
broadly, the unique ecology of the area offers an opportunity for raising awareness
about northern environments/communities and raising people’s empathy towards the
environment.
There are intrinsic values associated with the CWMA and an interest in the
community to preserve the rich heritage and cultural connections to the area which
requires having an intact environment and maintaining access to undertake
important activities (e.g., hunting, recreation, enjoying nature).
Polar Bear Tourism and the Visitor Experience
Polar bear tourism in Churchill is a relatively recent phenomenon, growing from only a few
wildlife photographers in the late 1970s to between 6,000 and 10,000 tourists during the
peak viewing season in recent years (Dawson et al. 2010; Olar et al. 2011; CWS no date).
Most tourism activities occur within the CWMA, an area created in 1978 to protect polar
bear staging and denning areas, nesting grounds for geese, and habitat for caribou (CWS
no date). In 1998 a large portion of the CWMA, including Cape Churchill, was transferred
from the Government of Manitoba to the Government of Canada and Wapusk National Park
was formed. Within a small portion of the CWMA there is a designated off-road trail network
where tourism operators are permitted to operate off-road tundra vehicles to provide polar
bear viewing opportunities (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The CWMA also contains a small
built-up road network which provides access to the off-road trail network and other facilities,
such as the Northern Studies Centre. To support viewing opportunities Manitoba
Conservation and Water Stewardship allow two ecotourism companies to operate a
maximum of 18 tundra vehicles that can access off-road areas in the CWMA at any one
time. Importantly, the current distribution of tundra vehicles between tour operators is the
result of private financial transactions (i.e., sale and transfer of licenses) among operators
that occurred over recent decades.
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Figure 2: Map of vehicle routes driven by tour operators on the designated off-road trail network in the Churchill Wildlife
Management Area during two separate outings in October of the 2014 polar bear season. Route data recorded on
separate outings with each operator, distinguished by different route lines.
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The tourist season peaks in October and November as polar bears congregate in the area
waiting for the ice on Hudson Bay to form. Figure 3 shows the average number of bears
seen and the dates of operation reported by operators. Based on these data, tours tend to
operate for about 50 days with a start in early October and end near the end of November.
A study of the visitor experience conducted during the 2002 and 2003 seasons provides
baseline information on visitor socio-demographics, expectations and trip outcomes,
motivations and satisfaction, as well as wildlife values and perceptions (Lemelin 2005;
Lemelin 2006; Lemelin and Smale 2006). During those seasons, visitors generally went on
two to three outings while visiting the Churchill area (Lemelin 2005). Tundra vehicle outings
were typically about seven hours long, bringing about 18 passengers per vehicle out into
the CWMA. The average outing saw about 10 to 11 polar bears, with some outings seeing
no polar bears and some up to 20 or more (Lemelin and Smale 2006). The distance that
tundra vehicles were able to approach to bears was quite variable with an average distance
of around 180 m (Lemelin and Smale 2006). Through this research, Lemelin and Smale
(2006) attempted to determine the relative influence on the visitor experience of the number
of bears seen, their proximity, level of activity, visibility and the number of other wildlife
species seen as inferred by observations of social interactions among people on tundra
vehicles. Their analysis found that, overwhelmingly, the number of polar bears encountered
on an outing was the most significant feature in defining visitor’s bear watching experiences.
As part of this carrying capacity review, we administered a visitor survey in the 2014 tourist
season to characterize the current experience and quantify how different factors affect the
quality of the visitor experience (see Nelitz and Beardmore 2015). The visitor survey had
two parts. The first part collected some basic information about visits to Churchill and some
details around visitors’ most recent tundra excursion. A second part of the survey presented
respondents with different viewing experiences and asked to choose which from a set was
preferable (termed a discrete choice experiment, Louviere et al 2000). Each experience was
described by several attributes including wildlife viewing outcomes (number of polar bears
seen, proximity to the nearest bear, number of other notable wildlife species seen), intensity
of tundra vehicle use (reflected by the number of other vehicles viewing the bears at the
same time), and trail impacts (soil erosion and vegetation damage). Each experience also
varied in its cost relative to the cost of the package that visitors actually experienced. While
these criteria are by no means a comprehensive set of factors influencing the quality of
visitor experience, each attribute was thought to be both salient to visitors, and directly
impacted by potential changes to the operation and management of the CWMA.
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Figure 3: Graphs of the daily average number of bears seen over recent years as reported
by tour operators. A complete data set for 2012 was unavailable.
Calendar Date
Number of
Bears Seen
2013
2014
2011
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During the 2014 season, 72 visitors responded to this survey. Most respondents (64%)
were first-time visitors to Churchill, staying on average about one week and taking two to
three tundra outings to view polar bears. The average trip in the survey saw 12 polar bears
with 78% of respondents coming within 10 meters of a bear. Visitors saw up to 5 other
notable species, dominated by ptarmigan (65% of trips) and gyrfalcon (35% of trips). On
average visitors reported seeing between 4 and 5 vehicles viewing bears at one time, and in
some instances up to 12 vehicles. While most visitors reported soil erosion or visible tread
marks (85%), only a few noticed damaged vegetation (18%).
Analyses of data from the discrete choice experiment identified the statistically significant
factors and degree to which they affect quality of the visitor experience or visitor satisfaction
(reported as part-worth utility, see Figure 4). As expected, visitors who responded to the
survey preferred to see more bears rather than fewer, and this preference had a positive
linear effect (Figure 4A). Visitors also demonstrated a significant and linear preference for
seeing more wildlife species although this effect was smaller than the effect of seeing more
bears (Figure 4B). Distance to the nearest bear was best described by a negative
logarithmic function, meaning that the most valued experience happens when visitors see a
bear up close (Figure 4C). Under 100 m the effect of getting closer is larger and more
positive than at greater distances. For example, viewing bears at 100 meters rather than
300 meters has as similar improvement to the experience as moving from 100 to 50 meters.
All visitors demonstrated a significant preference for seeing fewer vehicles around a group
of bears (Figure 4D). As with proximity to bears, this effect followed a negative logarithmic
curve, indicating that as the number of vehicles increases, the marginal effect of adding one
more diminishes. As presented to respondents, the effects of vehicle use on the landscape
(i.e., apparent soil erosion and damage to vegetation) and the relative cost were not
significant factors influencing the visitor experience. This result may be due to the fact that
the levels assigned to these factors was too narrow when compared to the perceived
changes in trip experience by altering either the wildlife outcomes or the number of vehicles
seen. For some attributes, environmental conditions could also explain this result since
snow and ice tend to hide or lessen the visibility of soil erosion or damage to vegetation.
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Figure 4: Visitor preferences for different statistically significant characteristics of the polar
bear viewing experience, presented on a common scale of visitor satisfaction
(called part-worth utility). Results are based on analyses of data from a Churchill
visitor experience survey administered in October and November of the 2014
polar bear season. See Nelitz and Beardmore (2015) for more information.
Community Safety
Given its unique location, the people of Churchill will inevitably have encounters with polar
bears in and around town. Due to their proximity to the community and fasting while waiting
for the ice to form on Hudson Bay, it is also expected that bears may behave in a way that
puts the safety of the community at risk. Research supported by the Manitoba government
in the 1990s identified three main factors that contribute to potentially harmful encounters
between people and polar bears (CWS no date):
Number of Bears Seen
Number of Other Notable
Wildlife Species Seen
Distance to Nearest Bear (m)
Number of Vehicles Viewing Bears at
the Same Time
A
B
C
D
Visitor
Satisfaction
Visitor
Satisfaction
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Proximity of polar bears to people;
Presence of attractants (food and garbage); and
Food-conditioning of polar bears.
Recognizing the potential for harm, the province of Manitoba operates the Polar Bear Alert
Program
1
to help minimize risks to the community and protect bears. The Polar Bear Alert
Program was established in 1985 (previously the Polar Bear Control Program since 1969)
and has the following objectives:
Protect people and property from the dangers posed by the presence of polar bears;
Ensure the conservation of polar bears and avoid undue harassment and killing of
bears;
Prevent polar bears in the Churchill area from becoming conditioned to scavenging
for food or developing other problem behaviours; and
Protect Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship staff who work in the Polar
Bear Alert Program.
The program is intended to be preventative by minimizing interactions between bears and
people. It includes raising public awareness about how to be safe around bears,
encouraging the public to minimize attractants, as well as hazing bears and using aversive
conditioning. A 24-hour phone line is set up for people to report bears in and around
Churchill. A core part of the program is the use of an exclusion or control zone around town
within which a bear’s presence triggers some action. If a bear is encountered within this
zone a first strategy is to encourage it to move out of the area. If unwilling to move or if it
cannot be located, a live trap may be set. A bear may also be immobilized and moved out of
the area by helicopter or destroyed if it poses a threat to people. Retained bears may be
held during the season within a Polar Bear Holding Facility and are usually released when
bears can migrate out onto the ice for feeding.
Figure 5 illustrates the number of bear occurrences and bears handled from 1969 to 2013.
The number of occurrences generally followed an increasing trend, with a larger increase
since the early 1990s. The number of bear handlings generally increased from 1969 to 2003
though has steadily declined since that time. The available evidence suggests that a few
key events and overarching influences may help explain these trends. In 1985 the strategy
of the Manitoba government shifted from the Polar Bear Control Program, which involved
more destruction of problem bears, to the Polar Bear Alert Program, which involves
preventing problems and capturing-relocating problem bears. One hypothesis is that the
decline in number of bears being destroyed may be related to the increase in the number of
problem bears since 1985 because captured bears tend to be re-encountered (Towns et al.
2009). The closure of the dump in 2005 is also a likely contributing factor since the dump
was known to be a significant attractant and this event is closely associated with recent
1
Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill, Manitoba. See: http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife/spmon/pbear/pbear_alert.html
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declines in the number of bears handled, though not related to the number of occurrences.
Underlying these broad patterns of increase is a hypothesis that changing sea ice
conditions related to earlier break-up and/or delays in sea ice formation are leading to
nutritional stress and increased interactions with bears looking for food. Research has
shown a significant, though relatively weak, relationship between number of bears handled
and date of ice break-up and freeze-up (Stirling and Parkinson 2006; Towns et al. 2009).
Based on this evidence, a combination of changes in polar bear management (destructions,
closure of dump) and changing environmental conditions seem likely as a way of explaining
observed patterns of change in bear occurrences and handlings. No data are available to
evaluate the influence of tourism activities on these patterns of interactions.
Public feedback on the Polar Bear Alert Program suggests that the effectiveness of the
program may also be linked to polar bear viewing opportunities around Churchill, outside of
the CWMA (CWS 2014). Multiple comments indicate a desire for the public and other tour
operators to see bears at different locations around Churchill without needing to partake in a
guided tour of the CWMA and that they are unable to do so because of the success of the
program in keeping bears away.
Figure 5: Number of bear occurrences and bears handled from 1969 to 2013 as reported
by the Polar Bear Alert (PBA) Program. Total costs of the program (operating and
salary costs) are also included and referenced in section 3.1.3. Data summarized
from CWS (2004; 2014).
Year
Number of
Bears
Dollars
($)
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3.1.2 Environmental
Stakeholder consultations identified three environmental components that are highly valued
and have the potential to be affected by the management of polar bear tourism and the
CWMA. Most importantly, it was widely acknowledged that maintaining the well-being of
polar bears is critical given its vulnerability as a species and importance to the ecosystem
and broader community. This consideration includes minimizing impacts on distribution and
abundance of bears by minimizing human-bear interactions so they do not become
habituated to people, stressed/harassed due to human activities, and/or destroyed if they
threaten people in the community. The well-being of other wildlife (e.g., arctic foxes,
ptarmigans, snowy owls, arctic hares, gyrfalcons, red/cross foxes) were also identified as
important components of the sub-arctic ecosystem and provide some intrinsic value to
visitors (see Figure 4) and the community itself. Lastly, there was broad recognition and
interest in minimizing human impacts on sub-arctic habitats including the physical
environment and vegetation communities that support wildlife, tourism, resource uses, and
cultural activities in the CWMA.
Overview of Polar Bear Ecology
Polar bears are an integral part of the ecosystem of Western Hudson Bay (WHB). The WHB
population of polar bears is arguably the most famous in the world, in part due to the
tourism industry that has developed around them. They are also probably the most studied
population in the world (Stirling 2011). Like many animals at the top of the food chain, they
are physically impressive and ecologically dominant in some respects. However, they are
also very susceptible to changes in their environment. Impacts on animals lower in the food
web also affect them. As well, they reproduce slowly and need huge areas to thrive.
Generally, large predators with a narrow range of food habits are among the most
susceptible animals to endangerment and extinction (Purvis et al. 2000; Estes et al. 2011).
The Polar Bear Status Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the
world’s most recognized scientific group related to polar bear populations, estimates there
are about 20,000 25,000 bears in the world.
2
About 60% of the world’s bears live wholly or
partly in Canada. With a population of about 1,000 animals, the WHB population makes up
a significant component of the global population (IUCN 2014).
In general terms, the ecology of the WHB population is relatively well known. Figure 6
summarizes the timing of key movements and events for WHB polar bears over the course
of a year. Bears gather along the shore of Hudson Bay in the fall waiting for the ice on the
Bay to freeze. They congregate near Churchill, and further north, because these locations
are where the ice forms earliest. As soon as they can (generally around mid-November) all
bears except pregnant females, head out onto the ice and spend the next eight months or
so feeding. The primary food of the WHB population is ringed seals, which make up about
70% of their diet; bearded seals, harbour seals, and harp seals make up the majority of the
2
IUCN. Global polar bear population estimates. See: http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/status/pb-global-estimate.html
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Figure 6: Diagram showing the approximate timing of polar bear activities, snow/ice cover, and tourism operations in Western
Hudson Bay. The dotted line ( ) refers to sub-adults and adult male bears, the thatched line ( ) refers to
pregnant/nursing females and cubs, and the solid line ( ) refers to all bears.
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remainder of their diet (Thiemann et al. 2008). Females with young-of-the-year cubs head
out onto the ice between late February and late March, when the young are strong enough
to accompany their mothers (Peacock et al. 2010). The key period for bears to feed on the
ice is during ringed seal pupping, which ranges from March to May on Hudson Bay
(Peacock et al. 2010). Bears mate on the ice between April and June, and don’t return to
land until break-up which usually occurs in July. When bears are on land they are
essentially fasting and feeding only opportunistically (Obbard and Walton 2011; Richardson
2009). The period of very little food intake is especially long for pregnant females, which
come off the ice in July, but don’t return until their cubs are old enough in February or March
a period of seven or eight months.
Size of Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear Population
Although the WHB bears have been intensively studied, the size and status of the WHB
polar bear population is the source of some confusion. This issue has relevance to
management and operations of polar bear tourism and the CWMA since it affects people’s
perception about the current status and outlook of polar bears in the region. A number of
factors contribute to the confusion around population size, including uncertainty about the
size of the historic population, varying scientific estimates of recent population size, and
differences between scientific and anecdotal observations.
As recounted by Stirling (2011), historic Information on the size of the population is largely
absent. The bear population along the west coast of Hudson Bay did not attract much
attention until after a military base was established near Churchill in the early 1940’s. Bears
were likely killed by military personnel for self-defence and other purposes, but no estimates
of the population were made. In the following decades the population size may have
responded to a number of factors, including closure of the Hudson Bay Company post at
York Factory in 1957 leading to a reduction in trapping to supply the post, withdrawal of the
Canadian army from Fort Churchill in 1964, and introduction of hunting quotas for Inuit
settlements in Nunavut in 1968. Although increasing numbers of bears were seen in the
autumn along the coast near Churchill following these events, no population estimates were
made. So there is no accurate historic measure to use as a comparison with current
population estimates.
A scientific publication from 2007 (Regehr et al. 2007) analyzed polar bear captures along
the west coast of Hudson Bay and concluded that the WHB population had declined from
almost 1,200 animals in 1987 to 935 in 2004. However, a 2014 publication (Stapleton et al.
2014) reported that the population included 1,030 bears, with 95% confidence intervals of
between 754 and 1,406 animals. This finding was somewhat of a surprise given the
downward population trajectory reported by Regehr et al. (2007). This latter result has been
inferred by some as an indication that the bear population is not declining or has not
declined. A caution around this inference is that these two studies used very different
methods to count and estimate the number of bears. The earlier study (Regehr et al. 2007)
used a mark-recapture approach where the population is estimated based on the proportion
of marked animals found in a sample that includes both marked and unmarked individuals.
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The more recent study (Stapleton et al. 2014) was based on an extensive and detailed
aerial survey. Not only are the two approaches different, but the more recent work also
observed large numbers of bears in areas that were not regularly sampled in the earlier
mark-recapture analysis. Since the two approaches are not comparable, caution must be
used in comparing their results. For several reasons the results of Stapleton et al. (2014)
may be more accurate than those reported earlier, but it does not necessarily follow that the
more recent estimate is indicative of an increase in population size. Both studies were
conducted using well-established scientific approaches, which can lead to confusion among
non-technical audiences and a lack of trust in these types of scientific findings.
Another issue that contributes to the confusion around population size relates to the
observations and experience of local residents. Logically, one may suppose that if the polar
bear population is smaller, then fewer interactions or incidents between bears and people
would occur. As noted by an increase in the number of bear occurrences in Figure 5, this
reality may not be the case around Churchill. There have also been an increase in the
number of bear sightings reported along the Hudson Bay coast north of Churchill from
Arviat to Rankin Inlet (Tyrell 2006, P. Ewins World Wildlife Fund, 2015 pers. comm.) and an
increase in the number of bears shot in that area (Stirling 2011). Other evidence suggests
that these interactions may be due to the fact that bears are suffering from hunger. Stirling
and Parkinson (2006) found a significant relationship between the date of sea-ice breakup
and the number of problem bears handled in Churchill. Towns et al. (2009) also reported a
similar relationship between the date of freeze-up and the number of bears handled. Taken
together these considerations suggest that the number of problem bears may not be related
to the total number of bears in the population. If bears are hungry as a result of early ice
break-up or late freeze-up, that change in their environment may well lead to increased
encounters with humans as the bears search for food more intensively while on land.
Human and Environmental Factors Influencing Polar Bears
Given the focus of this review on the interactions among polar bears, their environment
(including climate change) and tourism, it is important to explore the critical pathways of
influence and more detailed aspects that affect the region’s ecology. Figure 7 provides a
detailed box and arrow diagram (a conceptual model) illustrating the relationships among
factors that affect bears and their environment, as well as the other valued components
identified by stakeholders (i.e., other wildlife and sub-arctic habitats). Critical outcomes or
valued components are shown as blue ovals, which include the health, population status
and trends of polar bears, the health and status of other wildlife, and the condition of sub-
arctic habitats. Based on a review of available evidence and peer review, there are two
broad categories of forcings that have the potential to affect these valued components
human factors, including tourism, (shown in grey) and climate factors (shown in yellow).
These linkages represent a wide range of possible pathways-of-effect that have the
potential for impacts on bears, other wildlife, and sub-arctic habitats. Some pathways have
a strong basis in science or local observation while others are more hypothetical. A
summary of the potential pathways is provided in Table 1. More detail around these
pathways and the supporting evidence is provided in Appendices A and B.
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Figure 7: Conceptual model illustrating linkages and pathways-of-effect that influence polar bears, other wildlife, and subarctic
habitats in Western Hudson Bay based on a summary of available scientific evidence and peer review.
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Table 1: Overview of the pathways-of-effect illustrated in Figure 7. Pathway numbers (in brackets) refer to the individual
pathways-of-effect described in more detail in Appendix A.
Pathways-of-effect
Description of pathway
Climate change
impacts on Hudson Bay
and sea ice extent
(Pathways 1-12)
Underlying the impacts of climate change on bears is the expected effect on Hudson Bay’s ice cover. A
number of studies have documented either a trend for earlier ice break up and/or a trend for reduced ice
coverage of the Bay (Stirling et al. 1999; Gough et al. 2004; Gagnon and Gough 2005; Stirling and
Parkinson 2006; Stirling and Derocher 2012, etc.). Future projections of the extent of sea ice loss from a
wide variety of computer models all show declining Arctic sea ice (Stroeve et al. 2007). Actual annual
measurements taken from aerial surveys and photographic data over the last several decades confirm
that sea ice loss is consistent with the most pessimistic scenario from computer models (i.e., data from
National Snow and Ice Data Centre). Although these results are for the Arctic Ocean more broadly, it is
reasonable to expect the same trend will apply to WHB as evidenced by the model predictions specifically
for the region (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2013).
Climate change
impacts on availability
of food for polar bears
(Pathways 1-4 and 11)
If the ice does not persist as long on WHB, or if ice coverage is not as extensive, there will be less time
and area available for bears to feed. Given that ringed seal, polar bear’s main food source, is also
dependent on sea ice, it may also be affected by the same climatic influences as polar bears (Ferguson
et al. 2005; Chambellant 2010). There are complex scenarios regarding the possible northward migration
of seal species which are at present rarely used by bears (e.g., harp and hooded seals). Future changes
in alternative food sources complicate projections of food availability (Derocher et al. 2004). There is
some evidence that feeding on land during the ice-free season may increase (Gomezano and Rockwell
2013; Rockwell and Gormenzano 2009). There is little evidence that this increase would be sufficient to
offset negative effect of lost ice-based feeding opportunities (Rode et al. 2015). Adult male polar bears
are known to cannibalize other bears, particularly cubs (Derocher et al. 2004) and there is some evidence
suggesting the frequency of occurrence is increasing in areas where bears fast on land for extended
periods, although the potential population-level effects are not known (Stirling and Derocher 2012)
Climate change
impacts on polar bears
due to displacement
and denning
(Pathways 5 and 6)
With the earlier ice break up, bears may come ashore further south than their traditional areas and may
be forced to travel back on land at a greater energetic costs or through unfamiliar territory (Derocher et al.
2004). Spatial fidelity to terrestrial habitat, including denning locations may be affected by sea ice
movement and break-up (Cherry et al. 2013). A warming climate will affect the stability of permafrost
which may affect integrity of dens (Obbard and Walton 2011). There have been instances in which
permafrost, made unstable by warming, has caused dens to cave in thereby killing the bears inside or
forcing them out and interrupting the denning season (Stirling 2011).
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Pathways-of-effect
Description of pathway
Climate change
impacts related to
increased disease and
pathogen infection
(Pathway 12)
Bears that are food-stressed may have compromised immune systems and therefore be more vulnerable
to disease or parasites (Derocher et al. 2004). Food-stressed bears may eat more of the intestines and
internal organs of seals, increasing exposure to parasites or viruses (Derocher et al. 2004). Harvell et al.
(2002) and Post et al. (2013) note that pathogens may expand ranges northward as the climate warms,
bringing new pathogens and disease vectors into contact with polar bears.
Climate change
impacts on polar bears
related to increased
human contact and
lethal removal of bears
(Pathway 7)
A study of the documented increase in problem bear incidents in Churchill from 1970 to 2004
hypothesized that the increased nutritional stress related to shorter ice-free seasons may be a
contributing factor to this change (Towns et al. 2009). Although fewer bears are being killed around
Churchill, there is speculation that problem bears are now being killed in Nunavut (Tyrell 2006). Inuit and
scientific observations agree that there are now more bears in proximity to communities than in the past
(Tyrell 2006).There is also agreement among scientists that the number and frequency of bear-human
conflicts “will likely increase in the future because the warming Arctic climate restricts bear’s access to
sea ice and forces them to spend more time on land” (Clark et al. 2012).
Climate change
impacts on polar bears
related to increased
industrial development
(Pathways 8-10)
With a longer ice-free season and milder climate, there may be an increase in development of terrestrial
and aquatic environments in the Hudson Bay area, primarily related to shipping and mining (Peacock et
al. 2010). The resulting increase in human population may bring bears into contact with people more
often (Vongraven et al. 2012). Impacts related to oil spills and other pollution will have negative effects on
bears and their food (McKinnon and Abraham 2011, Schliebe et al. 2006).
Tourism impacts on
bears related to human
contact
(Pathway 13 and 15)
Some research has shown that bears show increased vigilance behaviour in the presence of tundra
vehicles, which may cause stress (Dyck and Baydack 2004; 2006, Eckhardt 2005). Others have
suggested that these effects, if they exist, would be minor partly because only a small portion of the WHB
population overlaps with the regulated viewing area (Stirling et al. 2008; Obbard and Walton 2011).
Another concern is that bears may become increasing habituated to tourist activities (Lemelin 2006),
which could lead to more negative interactions and lethal removal of bears (COSEWIC 2008).
Tourism impacts on the
environment
(Pathway 14)
Although there is little evidence, the same concerns regarding polar bear avoidance and vigilance related
to tourism, may exist for other wildlife species which occur in the main tourist area (e.g. arctic foxes,
snowy owls). Damage to the fragile sites within the tourism area can occur as a result of continued or
increased use of tundra vehicles. Figure 8 through Figure 11 provide aerial photographs of the CWMA
across four time periods and show the increasing level of disturbance to the landscape over time (1947,
1974, 1993, and 2006). Figure 12 shows images of the physical changes to the terrain in the CWMA as a
result of vehicle use.
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Figure 8: Air photo mosaic from 1947 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area representing the landscape prior to any human development.
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Figure 9: Air photo mosaic from 1974 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area representing the landscape following a period of military presence and prior to development of the first tourism operations.
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Figure 10: Air photo mosaic from 1993 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area representing the landscape at a mid-point in the timeline of development of tourism operations.
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Figure 11: Air photo mosaic from 2006 for a portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area representing the landscape under recent tourism operations.
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Figure 12: Images of the physical disturbance to sub-arctic habitats in the Churchill Wildlife
Management Area as a result of vehicle use. Photos from Elliott (2001).
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Expert Judgments on Factors Influencing Polar Bears
We engaged a group of highly knowledgeable technical experts (see Appendix C) to review
the above conceptual model and supporting evidence, as well as to provide supplementary
information to help identify the most important influences on polar bears and related sub-
arctic habitats. In particular this group provided a peer review of the conceptual model and
related pathways to provide feedback on the plausibility, potential for exposure, and
supporting evidence. Feedback was also requested to ensure there were no missing
pathways and/or linkages in the conceptual model (Figure 7, Appendices A and B reflect the
results of this peer review). Structured survey methods (Nelitz and Beardmore in press;
Martin et al. 2011) were also used to elicit and compare judgments of experts regarding the
strength of influence and certainty of evidence underlying the full set of pathways identified
in the conceptual models, as well as actions that have been identified as potential ways for
managing tourism operations in the CWMA (see Section 3.2.1).
Results from the expert survey are presented in Figure 13 through Figure 16. Bars in these
figures represent the average response across experts with error bars showing the variation
in responses across experts (using 95% confidence intervals). The strength of influence of
the fifteen pathways-of-effect (summarized in Table 2) presented in the conceptual model
were rated by experts using a standard 5-point scale ranging from least important to most
important (Figure 13). Two pathways were distinctly rated as the most important when
compared to all others:
climate induced changes in timing and duration of sea ice leading to effects on marine
feeding opportunities (Pathway 1); and
climate induced changes in the availability of marine prey (Pathway 2).
There was also low variation in responses across experts for these two pathways as
denoted by the small error bars.
The next group of pathways, rated as being moderately to more important, included:
climate induced changes leading to displacement of bears from traditional denning
areas (Pathway 5);
climate induced changes to permafrost leading to changes in denning success
(Pathway 6);
climate induced changes in timing of sea ice leading to increases in the number of
lethal interactions with people (Pathway 7);
climate induced changes in availability of marine prey leading to increases in the level
of contamination in the food of polar bears (Pathway 3); and
increased tourism leading to habituation of bears and increases in lethal removal
(Pathway 14).
With the exception of Pathway 5, there was higher variation across experts in the relative
importance of these pathways.
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Table 2: Complete list of all individual pathways-of-effect illustrated in Figure 7 and described in more detail in Appendix A.
Pathway-of-effect
Description of pathway
(1) Climate change and marine
feeding opportunities
Climate change and related changes in duration of ice on Western Hudson Bay lead to polar bear
population declines as a result of fewer feeding opportunities on primary prey species.
(2) Climate change and marine
prey availability
Climate change induced impacts on the Western Hudson Bay thermal regime affects the relative
availability of marine species leading to population level impacts on polar bears
(3) Climate change,
contamination, and marine prey
Climate change induced impacts on the Western Hudson Bay thermal regime affects the relative
availability of marine prey species leading to increased contaminants in the food of polar bears
leading to population level impacts.
(4) Climate change and
terrestrial prey
Climate change induced impacts on the Western Hudson Bay thermal regime and date of ice thaw
lead to changes in relative abundance of alternative (terrestrial) prey affecting polar bear pop’ns.
(5) Climate change and habitat
displacement
Climate change induced changes in the date of ice thaw lead to displacement of bears from
traditional denning areas leading to health impacts and changes in polar bear population levels.
(6) Climate change and denning
success
Climate change induced changes in the condition of permafrost lead to changes in denning
success of bears and changes in polar bear population levels.
(7) Climate change and human
interaction
Climate change induced changes in the dates of freeze-up and thaw lead to increased human
interactions leading to increased lethal removal of polar bears.
(8) Climate change, industrial
activities, & human pop’n growth
Climate change induced increases in ice-free duration increase industrial activities leading to
increased human population and increased lethal removal of polar bears.
(9) Climate change, industrial
activities, and contamination
Climate change induced increases in ice-free duration increase industrial activities leading to
increased contaminants in environment which affects health and population level of polar bears.
(10) Climate change, industry
activities, and disrupted mov’t
Climate change induced increases in ice-free duration increase industrial activities disrupting the
movements of polar bears, increasing their stress and affecting their health and population levels.
(11) Climate change, feeding
opportunities, and cannibalism
Reduced opportunities to feed on seals lead to an increase in cannibalism of hunger-stressed
adult males on cubs.
(12) Climate change and
disease
Through a variety of mechanisms, climate change cause an increase in disease and pathogen
infection leading to decreases in polar bear health with implications on population levels.
(13) Tourism and avoidance
behaviour of bears
Increased tourism elevates stress on polar bears through changes in vigilance and avoidance
behaviours and affects their health and population level.
(14) Tourism & bear habituation
Increased tourism leads to habituation of bears resulting in an increase in lethal removal.
(15) Tourism, site damage, and
wildlife including bears
Increased tourism damages the local ecosystem causing local impacts on habitats for other
wildlife species and polar bears.
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Figure 13: Expert ratings on the strength of influence of the various pathways-of-effect
influencing polar bears using a five-point scale from least to most important. Error
bars represent 95% confidence intervals around each mean based on variation in
responses across experts. Pathway numbers are referenced in Table 2 and
described in more detail in Appendix A.
Least
important
Moderately
important
Most
important
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The group of pathways rated as being less to moderately important included:
climate induced changes leading to an increase in disease and pathogen infection
(Pathway 12);
climate induced changes in industrial activities leading to increased contaminants in
the environment (Pathway 9);
climate induced changes in industrial activities leading to increases in human
population and lethal interactions (Pathway 8);
increased tourism leading to site damage and impacts on habitats (Pathway 15);
climate induced changes in industrial activities leading to disruption in movement of
bears (Pathway 10);
reduced opportunities to feed on seals leading to increased cannibalism (Pathway 11);
increased tourism leading to elevated stress on bears and changes in vigilance and
avoidance behaviour (Pathway 13); and
climate induced changes in relative abundance of terrestrial prey (Pathway 4).
Noteworthy is that there was a relatively low variation in responses across experts for
Pathways 8 and 10 (denoting general agreement across experts on importance of these
pathways involving industrial activities). All tourism pathways (Pathways 13, 14, and 15)
were associated with a relatively high level of variation in opinion among experts on the
importance of these pathways compared to most other pathways.
The certainty of evidence of these fifteen pathways-of-effect were also rated by experts
using a standard 6-point scale ranging from not applicable, the pathway is not plausible to
theoretically a concern, but no empirical studies yet demonstrate significance of concern to
widespread agreement and strong evidence from multiple sources and/or locations (see
Figure 14). In general, pathways rated as moderately to most important in Figure 13 were
also noted as having a relatively high certainty of evidence (Pathways 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 14).
An exception was Pathway 5 (related to habitat displacement due to climate change) which
was rated as moderately to more important, though denoted as having weaker evidence.
There was also a higher level of variation among experts on the certainty of evidence
related to Pathway 15 (site damage from tourism).
Focusing on tourism related influences, the importance of tourism pathways and
management actions are presented in Figure 15 and Figure 16, respectively. Consistent
with the results in Figure 13, the effect of tourism on habituation of polar bears (Pathway 14)
was distinctly and consistently ranked as the most important by experts (Figure 15). Given
the set of potential management actions presented to experts (see Figure 16 and Table 3),
the number of vehicles was rated as having the most important influence on polar bears
with a relatively high level of agreement across experts. Managing the spatial extent of
vehicle access, as well as the nature and type of permit conditions were rated as more
important ways to manage tourism impacts on polar bears. Lodge management was seen
as moderately important, though there was higher variation among experts on its
importance. Compliance/enforcement and managing the timing of vehicle access were seen
as having a less to moderately important influence on polar bears.
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Figure 14: Expert ratings on the certainty of evidence underlying various pathways-of-effect
influencing polar bears using a six-point scale from not applicable to theoretically
a concern to widespread agreement. Error bars represent 95% confidence
intervals around each mean based on variation in responses across experts.
Pathway numbers are referenced in Table 2 and described in more detail in
Appendix A.
Evidence is
preliminary
Widespread
agreement
Theoretically
a concern
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Figure 15: Expert ratings on a ranking of importance of the tourism-related pathways-of-
effect influencing polar bears. The tallest vertical bar represents the pathway with
the highest rank of importance. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals
around each mean based on variation in responses across experts. Pathway
numbers are referenced in Table 2 and described in more detail in Appendix A.
Figure 16: Expert ratings on a ranking of importance of management actions based on their
potential to have an influence on polar bears using a five-point scale from least to
most important. Management actions are summarized in Table 3 and described
in more detail in Section 3.2.1. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals
around each mean based on variation in responses across experts.
Least
important
Moderately
important
Most
important
Management
actions
Rank
Order
1
(highest)
2
3
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Table 3: Summary of the categories of management actions presented to experts to elicit
their judgments on factors influencing polar bears.
Management actions
Description of actions
Permit conditions
Control over the type and level of restrictions imposed upon tour
operators operating within the relevant portion of the Churchill
Wildlife Management Area (e.g., proximity to bears, safety
procedures, type of allowable vehicles).
Vehicle management
Control over the maximum number of tundra vehicles allowed
within the designated off-road trail network of the Churchill Wildlife
Management Area.
Lodge management
Control over the presence, number, location, and wastewater
management practices of overnight lodges within the relevant
portion of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.
Access management:
Spatial extent
Control over the size of area and specific locations that tundra
vehicles can access within the relevant portion of the Churchill
Wildlife Management Area.
Access management:
Timing
Control over the seasonal and daily timing of access of tundra
vehicles within the relevant portion of the Churchill Wildlife
Management Area.
Compliance/
enforcement
Level of in-season monitoring of compliance with permit
conditions and enforcement if tour operators are in violation of
conditions.
Implications of Climate Change
Scientists from around the world working together through the International Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) have evaluated and summarized evidence around climate change
since the Panel was formed in 1988. A recent assessment report from the IPCC indicates
there is no reasonable doubt that the earth’s climate is changing (IPCC 2013). This report
states that Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of
the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and
ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen,
and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” This report adds that Each
of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any
preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 19832012 was likely the
warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years”.
Concerns related to the impact of climate change on WHB polar bears are consistent with
these overall findings that document warming and changes in precipitation across the
planet. In the Arctic, projections of changes in sea ice extent across 13 different models and
emission scenarios show a consistent pattern of decline in sea ice extent (Figure 17). These
trends are supported by actual observations of decline in sea ice (see inset of Figure 17),
which are consistent with the most pessimistic projection of future changes. Evidence of
local warming and changing environmental conditions is substantiated by observations
around Hudson Bay (see Figure 18, Gagnon and Gough 2005). Data also show that the
timing of ice break-up on Western Hudson Bay has shown a step-like change (as opposed
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to a gradual shift in earlier timing) with the average date being about 13 days later from
1971 to 1988 than more recent years from 1989 to 2008 (Scott and Marshall 2010). The
potential impacts of climate change on polar bears and sub-arctic habitats, such as sea ice
and permafrost, are supported by multiple pathways and many studies that support the
direction of change and plausibility of the underlying mechanisms that are expected to lead
to impacts on polar bears (see Figure 7, Table 1, and summary of evidence in Appendix A).
There is much uncertainty about how the future will unfold, however. Recognizing that we
cannot predict the future with much confidence, scenarios are a useful way of providing a
structured account of the future based on different assumptions about how key drivers may
change (Duinker and Greig 2007). Ultimately the alternative assumptions underlying a set of
scenarios represent different narratives about the future which should be plausible and
based on historic observations, as well as available forecasts. Based on our research, key
drivers of change in Western Hudson Bay relate to future climate conditions, sea ice,
permafrost, marine community, terrestrial community, contaminants, and the adaptive
capacity of polar bears. Different assumptions about how these drivers will unfold form the
basis for developing the range of scenarios presented in Table 4.
Figure 17: Modelled projections of changes in Arctic sea ice extent (in millions of square km)
under different emissions scenarios (from Stroeve et al. 2007). Actual changes in
sea ice extent from 1979 to 2015 are illustrated by the thick solid line and in the
inset (data from National Snow and Ice Data Centre).
Sea Ice
Extent
Year
Actual changes in Arctic sea ice
extent (1979-2015)
Modelled changes in Arctic sea ice extent
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Figure 18: Average temperature deviations from the long term average during the summer
from two climate stations along the Hudson Bay coastline (Churchill, MB and
Moosonee, ON). Data indicate an increase in average summer temperature of
1.9 °C from 1950 to 2007 at these locations. Figure from Abraham et al. (2011).
Below we describe a realistic range of plausible scenarios of change and their potential to
influence local ecosystems over the next several decades. These scenarios were
developed based on a review of available evidence about local ecosystems and studies that
project future conditions for the region (e.g., Stroeve et al. 2007; Amstrup et al. 2010;
Stirling and Derocher 2012). This mix of scenarios is consistent with the balance of
evidence that indicates a unidirectional change in Hudson Bay ecosystems as a result of
warming air temperatures and accompanying changes to sea ice.
Optimistic: Though this scenario may be unlikely, there are some predictions that an
optimistic outcome may be possible (Amstrup et al. 2010). An optimistic scenario is based
on two key assumptions. First, it requires that global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions are aggressive and successful. The implications of such efforts are that climate
warming will be milder than expected, resulting in minimal additional impacts on the timing,
duration, and circulation of sea ice in WHB. Impacts on permafrost and changes to
marine/terrestrial community composition will also be minimized. A second key assumption
is that subarctic habitats and key wildlife, such as polar bears, will express a strong capacity
to adapt and persist in the face of some unavoidable changes through phenological,
behavioural, and/or physiological adjustments. This means, for instance, that polar bears
may increase the proportion of bearded seals in their diet and increase terrestrial prey (e.g.,
snow goose, caribou) to compensate for a lack of access to ringed seals or a more
prolonged fasting period that might result from a mild shift in climate and sea ice conditions.
Such adaptations might also include, for instance, a reduction in body size across the
population given some changes in food availability and fasting requirements.
Average
Temperature
Deviation (°C)
Year
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Table 4: Summary of key drivers/uncertainties that influence wildlife and habitats under different plausible scenarios of future
change in Western Hudson Bay.
Key driver
Description of driver
Alternative scenarios
Optimistic
Surprise-free
Pessimistic
Disastrous
Future
climate
Magnitude of future warming (associated with
actual GHG mitigation) with cascading impacts on
other biophysical drivers (e.g., timing of sea ice,
permafrost, marine and terrestrial species
composition).
Mild warming due
to strong GHG
mitigation
Moderate warming
consistent with
average assumed
GHG mitigation
Moderate warming
consistent with
average assumed
GHG mitigation
Significant warming
associated with
weak GHG
mitigation
Sea ice
Impacts of warming on timing (earlier thaw, later
freeze), duration, and circulation of sea ice in
WHB.
Minor changes
Modest changes
Modest changes
Major changes
Permafrost
Impacts of warming on spring rain and extent of
permafrost, having potential impacts on habitats
and valued species.
Minor changes
Modest changes
Modest changes
Major changes
Marine
community
Species composition and relative abundance of
marine prey species (e.g., changes in abundance
of seals).
Minor changes
Modest changes
Modest changes
Major changes
Terrestrial
community
Species composition and relative abundance of
terrestrial prey species (e.g., changes in snow
geese and caribou populations).
Minor changes
Modest changes
Modest changes
Major changes
Contaminants
Exposure of valued species (polar bears) to
contaminants due to potential changes in food
webs (e.g., abundance of bearded and ringed
seals) and their ability to switch prey.
Moderate exposure
High exposure
Low exposure
Moderate exposure
Adaptive
capacity
Ability of subarctic habitats and valued species
(polar bears) to adapt through phenological
(timing), physiological (adjust size), or behavioural
(switch prey, movement) adaptations.
Strong
Strong
Weak
Weak
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Surprise-free: Given recently observed changes in sub-arctic habitats and population
inferences around polar bears, a scenario where the current situation persists without
surprises would include modest declines in the local polar bear population and alterations in
sub-arctic habitats (through permafrost and species changes). This scenario is based on an
assumed climate warming associated with a model ensemble or average of projected
emissions, leading to a modest global average warming of more than 1°C and substantial
changes in sea ice extent and duration, as well as continued shifts in marine and terrestrial
community composition. Based on these projections, there may also be an increase in the
frequency of extreme conditions/events interspersed among years with more normal
conditions (e.g., more years with an extremely short ice-free period, such as in 1990).
Optimistically, this scenario assumes that climate impacts on local ecosystems will be
moderated due to a strong adaptive capacity to persist in the face of unavoidable changes
(e.g., shifting food sources, adjusting behavior in response to changes in timing/location of
sea ice, changes in body size). As a result of adjustments in their diet, polar bears may also
be more exposed to contaminants, thereby leading to additional physiological stress. Due to
unavoidable changes in the duration of sea ice, there may be observations of a greater
number of polar bears along the coastline and near communities since bears will need to
wait and forage longer on the coast waiting for the ice to freeze up (as has already been
observed along the Hudson Bay coast).
Pessimistic: This scenario assumes modest mitigation efforts that are insufficient to avoid
significant climate warming and climate impacts. The resulting impacts are the same as in
the surprise-free scenario above: (1) significant declines in sea ice duration and extent,
punctuated by an increase in years with extreme conditions alongside changes in sea ice
circulation in WHB; (2) continued deterioration of permafrost due to warming and rain
events; and (3) continued shifts in marine and terrestrial community composition. A key
difference, however, is that the adaptive capacity of the local ecosystem is weak since the
time scale of observed changes is too short and insufficient to allow for currently observed
changes in the ecosystem to result in the persistent population level adaptations that are
typically observed across longer evolutionary time scales. As a result, key outcomes
associated with this scenario include more pronounced declines in key wildlife species,
such as polar bears, and more dramatic alterations in local habitats than in the degraded
scenario. Similar to the degraded scenario, local populations of key wildlife would persist
and would likely include more observations of bears along the coastline and near
communities as a result of changing behavior due to shifting ice conditions, and would not
be indicative of an increase in population size.
Disastrous: This scenario assumes weak mitigation resulting in extreme climate warming
and major climate impacts that are more significant than the above scenarios. A key feature
of this scenario would be a dramatic change in sea ice conditions/permafrost warming that
is incomparable to historic and more recent observations. Such a change may include a
dramatic shortening, nearly complete loss of sea ice season, an occurrence of several
years of extremely short ice-free periods which has significant effects on local ecosystems,
and/or dramatic changes in the circulation of sea ice in WHB. For polar bears this change
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would mean they are unable to get sufficient nutrition from the short ice season, leading to
deteriorating body condition, decreased reproductive rates, and/or a significant decrease in
survival across all life stages cubs, subadults, females, and adult males. For other
species, this change would result in significant changes in other marine mammals (e.g.,
ringed seals) which rely on ice for breeding habitat and more habitat for open-water species
(e.g., orcas, narwhales). The pace of these climate impacts would be too rapid to allow for
any phenological, behavioural, and/or physiological adaptations, meaning that the
population levels of key wildlife, such as polar bears, would be at critically low levels.
Although these scenarios represent a realistic range of how the future may unfold, we add
that it can be challenging for people to accept them when using history as a reference point.
Hydro-meteorological observations are increasingly showing that the past can no longer be
used as an indication of the future (Milly et al. 2008). Greenhouse gas emissions and
warming trends are following an accelerating trajectory, meaning that we can expect more
intense and irreversible warming along with time lags in changes regardless of how well
greenhouse gas emissions are controlled today (IPCC 2013). In other words, we are not yet
beyond the normal range of conditions that have been observed historically (Mora et al.
2013). The purpose of developing these scenarios is to explore how plausible changes in
the environment, largely driven by climate change, will affect polar bears, other wildlife, and
sub-arctic habitats in the Churchill area, not to speculate which single scenario is most
likely. They are useful context for understanding, evaluating, and planning alternative
management strategies to identify opportunities for how the community, tourism operations,
and the local ecosystem can persist regardless of which of these alternative futures unfolds.
Noteworthy is that these scenarios represent future changes in environmental conditions,
not socio-economic ones (e.g., level and type of development, population size and
demographics).
3.1.3 Economic
Six specific valued economic components were identified through the stakeholder
consultations. These considerations can be divided into two categories: financial benefits
(tourism and non-tourism benefits) and economic welfare (equity, fairness, opportunity, and
certainty of benefits). Financial benefits were described by those interested in seeing the
maximum financial benefits from both polar bear tourism and other resource uses in the
CWMA (e.g., hunting and trapping, research and education), while acknowledging the
realistic constraints of the system (e.g., well-being of polar bears, safety of community).
Based on a recognition that the surrounding landscape and its wildlife (including bears) are
a public resource, considerations were raised which relate to maximizing the community
welfare of these financial benefits. From an equity point of view, there was an interest in
seeing greater local involvement in the opportunities and benefits from polar bear tourism
(jobs and money). From a fairness perspective, there was recognition of a need to protect
past/current investments (jobs, money, marketing, and infrastructure) that honours the
transactions, financial risks, and efforts of current permit holders, as well as other
investments in the community and elsewhere. Related to matters of opportunity, there was
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interest among stakeholders in encouraging ongoing and future investments (jobs, money,
marketing, and infrastructure) for both current permit holders to sustainably continue their
operations and potentially new permit holders who would like to participate in polar bear
viewing in the CWMA. Lastly, there was an interest in seeing greater certainty for
businesses around polar bear viewing opportunities and related management to support
ongoing investments in the industry.
These types of economic considerations were beyond the scope of this review. To provide
some context, however, a preliminary review of publically available information revealed
some estimates on total economic benefits, economic value of polar bears, and investments
of different organizations in polar bears and the related tourism industry. These estimates
include the following:
Total tourism spending in Manitoba in 2004 was in the range of $1.42 billion based
on 6.9 million visitors (NDMF 2008);
In the 2000s, the economic benefits of all nature tourism in Churchill were estimated
at over $3 million dollars per year, with polar bear viewing generating around $2
million per season, about 10% of its residents’ total income (Lemelin 2005; 2006;
ÉcoRessources Consultants 2011);
Other businesses in Churchill (restaurants, bars, grocery store, etc) receive
additional and indirect benefits from tourism spending in the community which has
not been quantified (ÉcoRessources Consultants 2011);
There is a significant non-market value for Canadian and foreign tourists who view
and photograph polar bears in Churchill, quantified at $4.9 million per year;
The operating and salary costs of the Polar Bear Alert program from 2009 to 2013
was an average of about $300,000 per year (see Figure 5, CWS 2014);
Across all jurisdictions, the Canadian government recently invested $5 million over 5
years in polar bear research (ÉcoRessources Consultants 2011); and
In 2009 the Manitoba government announced an investment of $31 million to create
the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at the Assiniboine Park Zoo
(Government of Manitoba 2014), which has since been established.
3
Though this information is somewhat useful as context, it appears there are few other data
available that provide more detail on the economic conditions of Churchill. As such, any
inferences about how polar bear tourism and management of the CWMA affect the
economy would rely on local and/or expert knowledge about the industry’s financial benefits
and effect on community welfare. If there was an interest in addressing these gaps, we
anticipate that total financial benefits (from tourism and non-tourism activities) are likely
easier to estimate than measures of economic welfare (equity, fairness, opportunity, and
certainty) given the nature of the underlying information.
3
International Polar Bear Conservation Centre. http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/zoo/home/conserve/international-polar-bear-
conservation-centre
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3.2 Management Strategies
Management strategies represent the range or combination of actions that could be
implemented to help protect the valued components discussed in Section 3.1 and better
achieve the related objectives for managing polar bear tourism and the CWMA. The focus
of this review was to identify strategies or actions that are within the control of the Manitoba
government, though actions within the control of the community or tour operators will also
be useful for achieving the broader objectives of the CWMA.
3.2.1 Perspectives from Churchill Stakeholders
Perspectives on how to manage polar bear tourism and the CWMA will be well informed by
those who are most familiar with the community and tourism industry, regardless of whether
they represent government, business, or public points of view. Moreover, we expect
individuals in the community will have preferences for a particular policy, strategy, or action
and they will be interested in knowing how well their preferences compare to others.
Various modes of engagement with stakeholders were used to identify strategies or actions
that could be pursued to improve polar bear tourism in and around Churchill (i.e., public
open house, public survey, and an informal stakeholder group, see Nelitz and Beardmore
2015). Eighteen additional actions emerged from this engagement, which include:
Permitting process
(2) Clarify rules of permit access/renewal
(3) Implement a performance review/evaluation of permit holders
(4) Change oversight for managing permits
Permit conditions
(6) Clarify performance standards/guidelines for permit holders
(7) Clarify training requirements for staff/guides
Vehicle management
(10) Reduce number of allowable vehicles
(11) Change allocation of vehicles between existing permit holders
(12) Change allocation of vehicles among existing/new permit holders
(13) Ensure minimum seat availability for “special” situations
Lodge management
(15) Improve wastewater management practices of lodges
(16) Do not allow lodges
Access management
(18) Expand areas to access within CWMA
(19) Further restrict timing and locations of access
(20) Improve condition of off-road trail network
Compliance/enforcement
(22) Enhance in-season monitoring of compliance & enforcement of permit conditions
Research and monitoring
(24) Enhance research and monitoring of relevant conditions
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Other actions
(25) Allow other forms of access to CWMA
(26) Improve communication, engagement, and education
These actions tended to be positioned around one or a mix of four distinct perspectives
interested in providing: (A) greater security for current operators, (B) greater local access to
tourism benefits, (C) greater protection of the environment, or (D) greater tourism benefits
with the least adverse environmental and social impact. As part of this review, a
consideration of no change, or maintaining the status quo, was also included regardless of
whether this suggestion was provided by stakeholders (e.g., no change in permitting, no
change in permit conditions, no change in number and allocation of vehicles, no change in
lodges, no change in access).
Feedback during consultations indicated that several of these actions are already being
implemented, in some cases as a condition of existing permits (e.g., seat availability to
support research and education, wastewater management at lodges, restrictions around
timing and locations of access). The comments underlying these proposed actions
suggested a need to go beyond what is currently being done and this list should be
considered with that emphasis in mind. It is also worth noting that some actions may be
logically or necessarily coupled with others. For instance, it would be sensible to implement
a performance review (#3) after clarifying performance standards for permit holders (#6).
These actions may also be tied to stronger in-season compliance monitoring and
enforcement (#22). We elaborate on the categories of actions and individual actions below
though recognize that many details still need to be clarified if any were implemented.
Permitting Process
Suggestions were made to improve clarity and transparency of the permitting process for
deciding on the number and allocation of tundra vehicles accessing the polar bear viewing
experience in the designated off-road trail network of the CWMA. Such clarity is important
regardless of who operates polar bear viewing opportunities today and into the future; it can
improve certainty for current operators to plan their operations and investments, as well as
other operators who want to know how they might be able to gain permitted access in the
future. Concerns were also expressed that: more regulation may restrict tourism access; the
process needs to acknowledge the legitimate historic market transactions and transfer of
permits among operators; and current vehicle capacity may not be fully utilized. As such,
three alternative actions emerged as potential improvements to the permitting process to
address these comments/concerns.
(2) Clarify rules of permit access/renewal to elaborate upon currently ambiguous elements
of the permitting process, such as explaining who can apply and under what conditions,
ways of transferring/accessing permits, changing the time limits on permits, and clarifying
the transaction cost for access/transfer of a permit, among other potential considerations.
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(3) Implement a performance review/evaluation of permit holders which involves adopting a
formal and regular review or evaluation for checking how well a permit holder is achieving
intended management objectives for the industry and CWMA, which may or may not be a
part of compliance with permit conditions.
(4) Change oversight for managing permits by changing the agency and/or individuals
involved in decisions around permitting to broaden the consideration of stakeholder
perspectives in the process. This action could be implemented in different ways (e.g.,
change Churchill municipal boundary, develop a diverse committee of decision makers).
Permit Conditions
A variety of comments were expressed that related to the desired performance of the
tourism industry, regardless of whether these expectations are applied to current or
potentially new operators (e.g., level of environmental protection, safety requirements, local
distribution of benefits, level of operator experience/knowledge/ training, quality of the visitor
experience). The motivation behind these comments is to ensure that Churchill provides a
world class standard of safety, level of environmental protection, and a high quality viewing
experience. One of the primary mechanisms for ensuring that these desired outcomes are
achieved would be through permit conditions issued by the Manitoba government. Hence,
two alternative actions emerged that relate to permit conditions.
(6) Clarify performance standards/guidelines for permit holders, which would require
describing the different performance expectations (a results-based approach) or specifying
guidelines (a prescriptive approach) for how permit holders are expected to undertake their
operations and achieve multiple objectives (e.g., safety, environmental, community
benefits).
(7) Clarify training requirements for staff/guides, which would involve specifying the training
requirements for staff/guides to maintain a high standard of environmental protection,
safety, and quality of the visitor experience across the industry.
Vehicle Management
Concerns around vehicle management represent some of the most challenging and
contentious issues to address since they relate most strongly to the way in which financial
benefits are distributed within the industry and community, as well as being related to the
quality of the visitor experience and effects on the environment (see Section 3.1).
Comments about vehicle management were mostly related to the number of allowable
vehicles and allocation of vehicles across existing permit holders and others with an interest
in gaining access to the CWMA. Beyond those actions that represent no changes in the
number and allocation of vehicles across existing permit holders, four additional alternatives
emerged that relate to vehicle management.
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(10) Reduce number of allowable vehicles from the current number for the purpose of
reducing congestion, minimizing impacts on bears, and improving quality of the visitor
experience.
(11) Change allocation of vehicles between existing permit holders to shift the distribution of
capacity between existing operators to maximize total visitor trips to the CWMA if additional
tourism demand exists and existing seating capacity is not being fully utilized.
(12) Change allocation of vehicles among existing/new permit holders to shift the
distribution of capacity between existing operators and/or to accommodate potentially new
operators, which would also result in changes to the distribution of benefits within the
tourism industry.
(13) Ensure minimum seat availability for “special” situations would require provisions by
existing permit holders to reserve a minimum number of seats that could be available for
“special” situations (e.g., lower income, youth, research, locals).
It is worth noting that any actions around vehicle management would likely also require
implementation of other actions (e.g., actions related to the permitting process and permit
conditions). Although there was some interest among the community in reducing the
number of vehicles, there were no proposals for the allowance of more vehicles in the
CWMA. The majority of comments expressed that the current number of vehicles is likely
sufficient. With more vehicles there were concerns about vehicle crowding and the related
impacts on the environment (bears and sub-arctic habitats) and quality of the visitor
experience (as evidence by Figure 4).
Lodge Management
Comments pertaining to the presence and management of lodges in the CWMA were
largely due to concerns that lodges are associated with attractants, thereby increasing the
potential for habituation of bears to people and risks to the community of Churchill. Two
actions were proposed that relate to lodge management.
(15) Improve wastewater management practices of lodges through better treatment or
containment of all waste water from showers and kitchens.
(16) Do not allow lodges which would require shutting down lodges based on concerns
related to habituation that could not be addressed through improved wastewater
management.
Access Management
Comments related to access management were seen as providing options for distributing
tundra vehicle traffic throughout the CWMA, reducing vehicle congestion/crowding around
bears, and improving the quality of access for vehicles all of which could support existing
permit holders and potentially other permit holders with different modes of access. There is
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a wide body of scientific evidence, however, that indicates that improved road access can
enable greater human development and activities that ultimately leads to greater impacts on
the environment. This outcome has been confirmed by local observations that indicate
upgrades to the roads make it easier for 4x4 vehicles to gain access to the CWMA. In some
years of quick freeze-up and adequate snowfall, non-permitted vehicles have been able to
access the area leading to increased congestion, damage to vegetation, and risks to safety
if vehicles get stuck. Three actions relate to changes in access management.
(18) Expand areas to access within CWMA by opening up more off-road areas for polar
bear viewing to better distribute tundra vehicle traffic.
(19) Further restrict timing and locations of access including more careful control of the
timing (e.g., shoulder seasons, within season, time of day for other potential operators) and
locations of vehicle access (i.e., to address crowding). This action might include allowing
other operators in the shoulder season or controlling access to other locations as might be
required if new areas were accessible (as per #18).
(20) Improve condition of off-road trail network by improving maintenance and/or
rehabilitation of the designated off-road network for the purpose of supporting off-road
tundra vehicle traffic only.
Compliance/Enforcement
Several comments were expressed that more could be done around compliance and
enforcement to ensure the industry is meeting a high standard of safety, environmental
protection (e.g., staying on designated off-road trail network, maintaining minimum distance
to bears), and visitor experience. One action emerges as a result of these comments.
(22) Enhance in-season monitoring of compliance and enforcement by Manitoba
Conservation and Water Stewardship of permit conditions for permit holders.
This action relates closely to permit conditions. Based on good practice in compliance and
enforcement, this action would ideally require permit conditions that are clear, measureable,
and enforceable, measures that encourage compliance promotion among tour operators,
and non-trivial consequences that pose a deterrent to non-compliance.
Research and Monitoring
There was an acknowledgement that there is an imperfect understanding of the area and
more data could be collected to better understand interactions among the environment,
polar bears, tourism, and the community of Churchill. As data are gathered, there are also
opportunities to share these data and the resulting knowledge with others in the community
and around the world. As such, one action emerges from these comments.
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(24) Enhance research and monitoring of relevant conditions, particularly social,
environmental, and economic conditions to better understand consequence of operations
and management of tourism industry.
Other Actions
Additional comments were expressed that relate to a variety of aspects of tourism
management and the CWMA. Although a meeting between Manitoba Conservation and
Water Stewardship and tour operators typically occurs prior to and during the tourist
season, stakeholders noted that there are some remaining challenges in communication
and coordination. It was seen as a benefit to convene additional discussions around issues
that need to be monitored and to encourage a productive dialogue that supports all
operators working together. Since conflicts can arise and different parties ask questions
pertaining to operations and management of the CWMA, it was also seen as advantageous
for the government to provide a representative stationed in Churchill that is empowered to
provide information to and educate the public, operators, visitors, and the media during the
tourism season. As well, comments were made that suggested allowing other forms of
access and development of other tourism products. Collectively these comments imply a
need to consider two additional actions.
(25) Improve communication, engagement, and education with Manitoba Conservation and
Water Stewardship having a more active role with operators, visitors, and the public to
support operations and management of the CWMA, both pre-season and in-season.
(26) Allow other forms of access to the CWMA using some type of permitting process so
that other tourism operators can provide polar bear viewing opportunities (e.g., smaller
vehicles, walking tours with safe viewing towers and interpretive displays, drone related
activity).
3.2.2 Perspectives from Other Polar Bear Tourism Opportunities
Although the geographic and social context varies, perspectives and potential insights on
tourism management in Churchill will also be well informed by examining polar bear tourism
(PBT) opportunities from elsewhere. This section provides a brief overview of eight
locations offering PBT in varied jurisdictions around the world. In alphabetical order, these
sites include: Arviat, Nunavut; Barrow and Kaktovik, Alaska, USA; Polar Bear Provincial
Park and the First Nations of Weenusk and Fort Severn, Ontario; Svalbard, Norway;
Torngat Mountains National Park (TMNP), Newfoundland and Labrador and Kuururjuaq
Parc National (KPN), Quebec, Twin Islands and the Wemindji First Nation, Québec;
Ukkusiksalik National Park (UNP), Nunavut; and Wrangel Island, Russia.
Arviat, Nunavut, Canada
Like Churchill, Arviat features the opportunity to view polar bears from the Western Hudson
Bay population migrating up the “polar bear alley” located along the Hudson Bay coastline
between Manitoba and Nunavut. Guided by Inuit bear monitors and tourism guides, visitors
have the opportunity to view polar bears in the safety of a compound (accessible by plane)
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featuring fortified polar bear cabins and an electric fence. Guided treks outside of the
compound are also offered.
Although the product is quite small, catering to less than 100 visitors a year, this particular
offering is interesting because of the substantial investments in the Arviat Community
Ecotourism (ACE) Initiative. The goal of the ACE program is to develop a community-based
approach to tourism with substantial control and involvement by the local community in
training and product development, with benefits largely remaining in the community
(Robbins 2013). Despite various discussions on the ACE program and positive media
coverage of these tourism developments, little information is available that describes visitor
management strategies for PBT at this site.
Barrow and Kaktovik, Alaska, USA
The small, remote Inupiat communities of Barrow and Kaktovik in Alaska offer limited
opportunities to view polar bears. For example, The Top of the World Hotel in Barrow offers
tours to view polar bears by van or by all-terrain vehicle (ATV). According to locals, the
optimal bear-viewing times are in the spring and fall whaling seasons where whale
carcasses may attract polar bears (George et al. 2004; Norton and Gaylord 2004;
Gearheard et al. 2006). The Northern Alaska Tour Company offers day trips during the
months of August and September to Kaktovik to view polar bears. In addition to these tours,
visitors can also travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to see polar bears. Requiring
insurance coverage, US Coast Guard licensing, training and special use permits, PBT
offered in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the most regulated in the state (USFW
2015). Despite being protected through the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the
Endangered Species Act in the United States, information related to viewing polar bears in
the state of Alaska is limited. Although official figures are not available, there are an
estimated 100 tourists per year visiting Barrow, with no estimates available for Kaktovik
(Lemelin and Dyck 2007).
Polar Bear Provincial Park and the Weenusk and Fort Severn First Nations, Ontario,
Canada
Viewing of the world’s most southerly population of polar bears in Polar Bear Provincial
Park (PBPP) (estimated at about 1,000 animals, see Calvert et al. 1995) is limited to a few
entrepreneurs in Weenusk (Canoe Frontiers and Wild Wind Tours). Canoe Frontiers offers
both canoe and kayak expeditions up the Winisk River and eco-cultural tours in PBPP
through Wild Wind Tours (Lemelin and Dyck 2007). Polar Bear Park Expeditions (formerly
known as Ice Bear Tours) no longer offers any tours to the Sutton River. Polar bear viewing
opportunities in Fort Severn are offered by local operators who take visitors west of the park
to see polar bears with ATVs along the Hudson Bay coastline. There are an estimated 100
annual visitors visiting PBPP and the Fort Severn First Nation, which includes canoers and
wildlife tourists.
Recreational and tourism opportunities were addressed in the original park planning
proposal (OMNR 1977a; 1977b) and subsequently reviewed in the 1980 Master Plan
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(OMNR 1980), the Polar Bear Provincial Park Tourism Development Study (1988), the
Goose Camp Action Plan (1990), and the Management Plan Review (OMNR 1994). The
park management plan identifies five access zones where aircraft landing is permitted
(Ontario Parks 2005).
Outdated management plans and restrictive policies in PBPP (discouraging development of
tourism infrastructure) combined with sporadic permitting systems (required for aircraft
landings but not for water-based vehicles like canoes or kayaks) have resulted in a park that
largely discourages PBT. Polar bear-human interactions outside of the park and throughout
the rest of Northern Ontario are mentioned in the 2011 Recovery Strategy for Polar Bear
(Tonge and Pulfer 2011). However, no specific recommendations pertaining to polar bear
tourism have been implemented to-date.
Svalbard, Norway
Over 66,000 visitors travel to Svalbard, Norway. The vast majority of these visitors are
cruise tourists visiting the area to see the Arctic landscape and spot polar bears (Kaltenborn
2000; Humlum 2005). Although managers and the Governor discourage polar bear-human
interactions in Svalbard, the tourism industry does promote the viewing of these animals,
typically from the safety of ships or zodiacs. In other instances, polar bears can be viewed
from snowmobiles, dog-sled, and while cross-country skiing. Tourists visiting Svalbard pay
an environment fee to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund which supports
preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of the area (Governor of Svalbard 2010, as
cited in Hagen et al. 2012).
Tourism in Svalbard in its modern form was initiated by the government of Norway in 1990
and by 1995 an official goal was set to make Svalbard one of the best-managed wilderness
areas in the world (Det kongelige miljødepartment 1994-1995, as cited in Hagen et al.
2012). A management plan was prepared with a view to safeguard the unique environment
and important habitats for polar bears (with an estimated population of 2,000) and keeping
tourism development within environmentally sustainable and commercially acceptable
boundaries (Kalternborn 2000). Approved by the Ministry of Environment in 1995, the
management plan uses a zoning system, adapted from the Recreational Opportunity
Spectrum planning model that includes four categories (Kaltenborn and Emmelin 1993):
nature reserve, national park, recreation area, and tourism area. Today 65% of Svalbard’s
land area and 87% of its territorial waters are protected by law and protected area
designation including seven national parks, six nature reserves, fifteen bird sanctuaries and
one geological protected area. The primary tourism area, called Management Area 10,
encompasses central parts of Spitsbergen, including Isfjorden and its settlements.
Independent travelers and commercial companies use these areas extensively (Kaltenborn
2000).
The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act (which passed into law in 2001 and went into
effect in 2002) is a collection of environmental legislation addressing protected areas,
species management for flora and fauna, cultural heritage, land-use planning, pollution,
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waste disposal, traffic and private cabins. The purpose of the act is to safeguard pristine
areas in Svalbard while ensuring the sustainability of commercial activities in the region
(Governor of Svalbard 2010, as cited in Hagen et al. 2012). In 2003, expedition cruise
operators established the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) to
coordinate their activities and improve their operations. In 2005, the Governor of Svalbard
published the Strategy Plan for tourism and outdoor activity on Svalbard. The strategy
outlines the framework for present and future tourism developments (Hagen et al. 2012).
Currently all recreational ships coming to Svalbard, whether commercial or private, are
required to notify the Governor of Svalbard and obtain approval for their travel plans in
advance of their trip. In addition, tourism operators are responsible for the safety of their
clientele and for ensuring that visitors are informed of and comply with rules and regulations
(e.g., that attracting, pursuing or otherwise actively seeking out polar bears is punishable by
law). Guides must have the necessary knowledge of weapons and appropriate techniques
for addressing potential confrontations with polar bears. In addition, a tour operator must
have sufficient insurance, or ensure there are equivalent guarantees, to cover any
expenses incurred by the authorities or others in connection with search or rescue
operations (Lemelin and Dyck 2007).
According to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, it is prohibited to lure, pursue or
otherwise seek out polar bears in such a way as to disturb them or expose either bears or
humans to danger. Necessary measures shall be taken to avoid the danger of polar bear
attacks and to ward off an attack without injuring or killing the animal. Appropriate means of
frightening and chasing off polar bears shall be available in the camp, which may include
trip-wires with flares, guard dogs, or a polar bear guide. Apart from instances of self-
defence, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act permits the police to shoot bears as a
precautionary measure or as an act of mercy (Hagen et al. 2012). Between the period from
1998 to 2006, 25 polar bears were killed and two were injured. Almost half of these cases
were in self-defence (Lemelin and Dyck 2007).
At present, the degree of disturbance to polar bears caused by cruise ships or tourist
groups ashore is assumed to be limited and happens unintentionally. However, unfortunate
incidents such as the aggressive encounters between tourist groups and polar bears in
2011 and 2015 (both of which occurred on land) have endangered human lives and resulted
in the destruction of polar bears. As such, there have been calls to revise current
management and implement new monitoring practices by the Auditor General of Norway,
the Ministry of Justice, and the Police. One particularly contentious recommendation is to
reduce public landing access along the east coast of the archipelago. Local residents and
tourist operators strongly oppose the proposal stating that it is based on perceptions of too
many visitors and not based on actual monitoring of the impacts on flora and fauna
(Aarskog 2008, as cited in Hagen et al. 2012).
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Torngat Mountains National Park (TMNP), Newfoundland and Labrador, and Kuururjuaq
Parc National (KPN), Québec, Canada
The Nunatsiavut Government and the Torngat Mountains National Park (TMNP) were
established in 2005 (Park Canada 2010) with the Kuururjuaq Parc National (KPN)