The tundra and subarctic forests surrounding Manitoba’s Hudson Bay coast yield incredible abundance that sustains both the people and wildlife that thrive here. Wolves, foxes and wolverine hunt and scavenge on the heels of moose, hares and thunderous herds of caribou that in turn feed on the plants and lichen anchored in the deep, peat rich soils. In summers, over 250 species of birds call this place home.
Despite this dramatic diversity it is the polar bear that draws people from across the planet to experience Manitoba’s northern paradise. The continued health of this vibrantlandscape and the polar bears that live here are key ingredients to maintaining healthy and prosperous regional communities. Indigenous land use planning and the proposed Polar Bear provincial park present opportunities to secure this prosperity and assert Manitoba as a global leader in large landscape conservation.
The incredible scale and significance of such an opportunity is often lost on Canadians with little reference point for measures of ‘vastness’. Manitoba’s proposed Polar Bear Provincial Park study area considers protections within 29,000 km2 (4.5% of Manitoba) of ecologically significant land. This is in addition to I the existing Wapusk National Park (11,475 km2). Together, these areas are comparable in size to the Netherlands. This vast landscape is particularly carbon rich and its protection would offer significant piece of Manitoba’s contribution to addressing global climate change.
Evidence of reduced polar bear body condition as well as reduced rates of reproduction and cub survival should be enough to put us on guard despite a lack of consensus on the current health of the Western Hudson Bay population. The winter sea ice they depend on to hunt seal is projected to decline as a result of climate change. Protection of the terrestrial habitats they depend on for significant parts of their life cycle (including denning and giving birth) is an important peice of the polar bear conservation solution in western Hudson Bay. Recently recorded concentrations of polar bear denning sites near the Ontario border are currently unprotected.
Hundreds of other species overlap with the bears including over significant portions of the Hudson’s Bay lowlands. As North America’s largest wetland and one of the world’s largest peat forming ecosystems, it plays a significant role in slowing down the impacts of global climate change by storing large amounts of carbon. Although they cover just 1/20 of the global landmass, northern peat forming systems like this store an estimated ¼ of all terrestrial carbon.
In addition, northern communities depend on a thriving ecosystem to undertake subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, and trapping and to support the region’s ecologically responsible tourism and outfitting industries. As Churchill is recognized globally for having some of the most unique and accessible wildlife viewing in the world, this is a major local and provincial economic driver (overnight visits to Churchill alone contribute an estimated $21M annually to Manitoba’s economy).
Both Indigenous led land use planning and the proposed Polar Bear provincial park would preserve traditional livelihoods, and maintain the ability of the local tourism industry to sustainably support communities in the long term while greatly helping to protect an iconic yet at-risk Canadian wildlife species. A path forward in this process is one that will ensure First Nations involvement in and support for protections within their traditional territories prior to their designation.
CPAWS is working to ensure a broad understanding of the benefits that protections in this region would offer.