Jill Larkin, Resource Management Officer, bear monitoring for researcher Daniel Giesbrecht in Wapusk National Park Jill Larkin, Resource Management Officer, bear monitoring for researcher Daniel Giesbrecht in Wapusk National Park.
© Parks Canada

Brady Highway
Visitor Safety and Fire Operations Coordinator, Wapusk National Park and Manitoba National Historic Sites

Wapusk News - Issue 8, 2015

Whether you are a long-time resident, a one-time visitor, or a newcomer to Churchill (like myself), this region is a wonderful place to witness the largest land-based carnivore—the polar bear—in its natural habitat. The chance to view this animal attracts people from all walks of life, people whose diversity of experience and approach to polar bear safety is often quite varied.

If you ask anyone who lives or works in the region, they will have a favourite bear story that they love to tell. These stories contribute to local folklore, and some of the lessons from these stories have made their way into educational materials and formal management plans that guide Parks Canada’s daily operations. All people who visit and work in Parks Canada sites in northern Manitoba have a responsibility for safety. This can sometimes be challenging as people have different comfort levels when dealing with bears, and each encounter is unique.

Polar bear in Wapusk National Park Polar bear in Wapusk National Park
© Parks Canada
We walk a bit of a fine line in Manitoba North, since on one hand, we must respect the space of the polar bear, and do our best to ensure that they do not become habituated to humans. On the other hand, we know that visitors enjoy seeing the animals on the ground and may, in their enthusiasm, pressure bear monitors and guides to facilitate that experience. The number of polar bear sightings can add to the pressure—in 2014 Parks Canada recorded 196 separate polar bear sightings while on the ground. This number would increase considerably if helicopter overflights and tundra vehicle sightings were added in. Each year, Parks Canada defines thresholds for dealing with bear encounters and implements a standard set of guidelines to ensure that no people, or bears, are harmed.

Parks Canada’s work in protecting the species extends to our neighbours and partners, and we have worked collaboratively with the Churchill Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Churchill and Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship (MCWS) to develop educational materials. Parks Canada staff contributed to the Safety in Polar Bear Country pamphlet, safety presentations and the development of town signage and hotel tent cards with specific safety messages for visitors and transient staff. We also worked with Polar Bear Alert who in 2014 experienced an early and busy season. Their first bear call occurred on June 8 and they handled their first bear on July 2. Parks Canada and MCWS tested the relocation of bears from their holding facility into Wapusk National Park with the hope that those (human habituated) bears do not wander into other towns further up the Hudson Bay coast.

Parks Canada is proud of the contribution it makes to the conservation of polar bears. As a new member of the community, I sincerely appreciate the leadership Parks Canada demonstrates in providing safe experiences to visitors, while maintaining the respect and space that bears need to survive.