'The bears come here and prowl all over the place and people can co-exist with the bears'
Meet Parker Fitzpatrick, trapper and field engineer for Polar Bears International. He's part of a team of experts in Manitoba to monitor the annual polar bear migration.
Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Photo: Polar Bears International
Q: Who are you and what do you do here in Churchill?
A: My name is Parker Fitzpatrick and I work for Manitoba Hydro. I’m also a local trapper.
How long have you lived here in Churchill?
What made you want to move up here?
I was here working with Manitoba Hydro for the first time in the '90s, and in the first trip I loved the people in Churchill, the laid-back atmosphere and the wildness and that kind of thing. So I came back as soon as I could when I had the opportunity.
You say the people and wildness drew you here; talk a little bit more about that.
Just that the town seemed 50 years behind the rest of the world. The rules didn’t always apply. Simple things, like you didn’t need a seat belt. Or one time I went to the bar on Sunday to have a beer, and the guy got off of work there and I thought I’d have to wait a while, but he said, “The beers are in the back; you can go and get the rest yourself, and pay for them before you leave.” Things like that. And the wildness! We were out working on a line and way up here there are lots of wildlife: tracks in the snow of moose and caribou, wolf tracks, wolverine. It’s just so isolated. It just seemed like a really cool place.
Many people have a negative connotation when they hear the word hunter or trapper. Could you talk to us about what it really means being a trapper up here in the Arctic?
It’s a renewable resource. The trap line I run has been run by one family for many, many years. Now I have it, so it will probably stay for 100 years, but I can leave tomorrow and within a couple of years you would never even know someone was there. The animal populations would go back to the norm and that’s Mother Nature’s way of doing it with highs and lows and peaks and valleys in animal populations. When you trap, it levels it all out. So the population stays very stable. And you just don’t want to overtrap it. If you look after it properly, it’s good forever.
People always say, “Oh, the animals suffer”; well, the traps we have right now are kill traps, and it’s illegal to use anything other than it. It lasts no longer than two minutes, and you have to remember that mammals die every year in the wild; it’s Mother Nature’s way, with starvation and freezing to death and predation and that kind of thing. With us, we take a certain number of animals, and the ones that go for the bait are usually the hungriest, you know what I mean? The healthier ones don’t go after the bait because their food is available. Every animal that you take makes it easier for the one that you leave behind, because there is more food available. It’s just a natural way. It’s not at all like sport hunting; that’s totally different. You are living off the land, you are not polluting, you sell the furs, you eat the meat: Nothing is wasted. And if you leave, everything goes back to the way it was.
Have you noticed any climate/environment/wildlife changes in the 20 years you’ve been here?
The winters are warmer. I don’t know if the springs are different, but the falls are earlier. For whatever reason I don’t know, but in the 20 years that I have been here I’ve noticed change.
How would climate change affect your line of work?
As a trapper, you spend less time out on the land. We spend a lot of time out on the land after the freeze-up, so we don’t get out until later and traveling is tougher. For my work at Manitoba Hydro, we get our work done in the winter, too, where we go and check damaged land. Everything is frozen and we take big machines out on the land. A lot of the land has been in permafrost but it’s thawing out now. This means the tower footings are sinking and twisting and anchors are letting go and that kind of thing. The warmer it is, the worse it’s going to be.
Do you have any personal stories about the first time you saw a wild polar bear?
Where I grew up, you just heard of a polar bear and when you come up here and they are running all over town it’s just really cool. I've had a lot of encounters with bears, some close calls, a few scares, but really, nobody ever got hurt; we never had to destroy a bear or anything like that. Everything worked out well in each circumstance. It’s just that people can live with the bears, the bears come here and prowl all over the place and people can co-exist with the bears. That is the connection we have to them. We share the place with them.
Why should other people care about the bears?
They are one of the animals that are affected the most by climate change. Their lifestyle is living on the ice and that is where they do most of their feeding and that type of thing, so they're the ones that are affected the most. It’s a good indicator for everybody to stop and kind of look at what they are doing. Become personally aware of their impact and the negative affects on the planet.
If you could say anything to the people who don’t live in this environment, what would you say?
Everything we see here, we see it happening to the polar bears. This is global. There are going to be lots of problems, lots of storms. Everyone's got to realize that every single thing that they do has an impact. Some people think, "Oh it’s just me; what difference am I going to make?" It's everyday life that contributes to global warming. Like getting a vehicle that burns less gas, walking rather than taking a car, and pollution. Everything that every individual does is going to be the change; the combination of all of it will add up to create a change.
This Q&A was written by Katie Billing and Erica Wills of Polar Bears International for explore.org. It is used with permission here.
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