Mapping Wildlife with the Inuit

By Nancy Luse

Living in harsh arctic conditions that provide little in the way of vegetation, the Inuit—basically translated as “first peoples of Canada”—have for centuries depended on polar bears, walrus, seals, and caribou for their food. That remains the case, but harpoons and other traditional weapons are being replaced with rifles, and snowmobiles now make following animal herds easier than walking or using a dog sled. Adding to these changes, in what has been a simple world, is a handheld computer the Inuit are using to help their government monitor wildlife populations.

The Mesa Rugged Notepad, manufactured by Juniper Systems, based in Logan, Utah, is familiar to land surveyors who use it as a controller and connector to high-precision survey-grade receivers in their daily operations. But for the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, the Mesa is the go-to device for its community-based wildlife-monitoring program.

“Harvesters are seeing animals and also killing them for food, and at the same time are recording information onto the handheld notepads,” said Trevor Brown, natural resources market manager for Juniper Systems. The Inuit hunters log travel routes, mark GPS coordinates of their catches or sightings, plus record environmental data such as weather conditions. Additionally, they gather information about the various species such as the age and health of the animal, all of which is used by researchers to determine population dynamics.

Brown said 40 notepads were distributed to hunters for the project conducted in the communities of Cambridge Bay, Arviat, and Sanikiluaq, located north of New England. “Employing local people is beneficial in that it gives them a little extra money, and it also allows them to understand their own impact on wildlife populations after generations of hunting,” Brown said.

The notebook has integrated geo-tag capabilities that imbed or emboss GPS coordinates on photos taken of sightings or harvests. “They save the data, and when they come home, a person in the community who has been trained as a data clerk pulls it onto a laptop, and that is uploaded to a central data site,” Brown said, where “policy makers and researchers can go to a secure web portal” to view the information. Just as fishermen are protective of a favorite fishing spot, so it is with these hunters, he said, “and there is a lot of trust” being built with those who signed on to the project.

Other Firms Join

In addition to Juniper Systems being part of the contract with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, so too are IMG-Golder Corporation and Noreca Consulting. IMG-Golder (a consulting company offering environmental and engineering services based in Inuvik, Northwest Territories) is managing the implementation of the entire project. Noreca (an environmental and IT-consulting company based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia) is leading the technical design and implementation of the contract.

Joerg Tews, president and CEO of Noreca, said that in partnering with Juniper, “I did a little bit of research on rugged, hand-held computers … and the Mesa was a very good fit. We were looking for a field computer especially suited for harsh environments. The summers in Nunavut are very short, and Inuit hunters collect data in sub-zero temperatures from October to May. Also, devices occasionally drop from the qamutik [sled], snowmobile, or ATV at full speed.”

Brown said the Mesa is able to take a beating, recalling a video by Juniper Systems proving its ruggedness by catapulting a Mesa through plywood, “and they were still able to get data off of it.” As to the durability needed to withstand the Arctic’s extreme cold, it’s rated to work at -30 degrees Celsius, “but it’s been tested to run at a lot colder,” he said.

“It has a long battery life,” Brown said, “but if you need to field swap batteries you can change them without losing any data. It’s very user-friendly, especially important because these are folks new to this type of technology.” Because the hunters wear heavy gloves, the notepad was fitted with larger buttons. “Noreca Consulting also had to make the mobile software in different versions—English and native Inuktitut, which has unique characters [in its alphabet].”

Future of the Arctic Project

Tews said the project is planned for “a year of data collection, which will be completed next February. The main goal is to test our approach and the technology, making it better, and then eventually rolling it out and implementing it in more communities across Nunavut.”

On a personal note, he said, “I especially enjoy working with the local hunters. We have regular workshops in the communities where we train them in the new technology. “

Brown also said he has good feelings about the project. “Understanding the health and the population of wildlife in the Arctic keeps me passionate about my work.” From the feedback he has received from those directly involved, they are saying, “we’re happy that finally we get a voice, that it’s not just someone at a desk making decisions” about this hunter-based way of life that has existed for countless generations.

Nancy Luse is a freelance writer in Frederick, Maryland.

For more information on those involved in the Arctic Wildlife Monitoring Program, visit:

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