Restrictions lifted on bear hunting in Aklavik, after 5 destroyed in 1 week

Days are numbered for the bears of Aklavik's dump.

The N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) confirmed that wildlife officers have killed five grizzly bears that entered the community in the past week.

All had grown accustomed to the plentiful human food found at Aklavik's town dump.

"These bears are habitual dump bears," said Fred Behrens, Aklavik's senior administrative officer. "They come to our dump year after year."

Rolland Malegana, ENR's regional superintendent for the Beaufort Delta, said five grizzlies in one week is unusual even in Aklavik — the hamlet's name translates to "place of grizzlies."

"It's not unusual to see that many bears in a landfill, especially in the fall," he said, "but bears that come into the community, or close to it — that is unusual."

"Some of them were young, and they weren't afraid."

In response, ENR has doubled their presence, adding a temporary officer from Inuvik. The hamlet has also hired two additional bear monitors to patrol the streets between dusk and dawn. 

It has also lifted restrictions prohibiting harvesting grizzlies in the community — but Michelle Gruben, a resource person with the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee, said that's not likely to make much of a difference while the bears are still wearing their summer coats.

"The hide's no good," said Gruben, "so they're not going to get anything out of it."

Any bears killed will still count toward a quota and harvesters will still need a tag.

Jakub Moravec/Shutterstock

Bears troubling other communities

Bears have been a persistent issue across the entire Beaufort Delta. It's common to see more than one bear fattening up at municipal dumps.

But recently, residents in a number of communities have said grizzlies are increasingly approaching built-up areas.

Grizzlies were briefly a municipal election issue in Inuvik last fall when their increasing presence in the community was raised by residents at an all-candidates debate.

And this summer, residents of Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk reported increased bear break-ins at cabins.

In Aklavik, the hamlet recently secured $450,000 in federal funding for upgrades to the dump, which will include new fencing.

That may not be enough. ENR has previously pointed to the accumulation of human food at local dumps as the real driver behind the bear's activity.

"It'd be great to have a fence there," said ENR's Malegana, "but also, it'd be great if they segregated the food a bit more. But I guess that's something they'll be working on."

A fence alone may not stop a hungry grizzly.

"I've heard the bears will dig under the fence too," said Behrens, with the hamlet.

Gruben estimated about 14 bears are frequenting the Aklavik dump this summer, including two that were recently destroyed — "a high number for small little Aklavik," she said.

The number drew the attention of Beaufort Delta MLA Frederick Blake, Jr., last week.

"I think it is pretty clear that 14 grizzly bears are a threat," he said in the legislature. "Let's not wait until something serious happens."