Human Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 377–387 | Cite as

Hunting with Polar Bears: Problems with the Passive Properties of the Commons

  • Jeremy J. SchmidtEmail author
  • Martha Dowsley


Inuit in Canada’s Arctic conceptualize both human hunters and their polar bear prey as active participants in the hunt and as part of a larger socio-economic system requiring the involvement of both humans and animals. Although often treated through the lens of common-pool resource theory, the Inuit viewpoint conflicts with Western wildlife management systems that typically treat animals, and nature in general, as passive. When polar bears are understood as active participants in the hunt, the rights associated with common property regimes and assumptions about collective-choice decisions in common-pool resource management require significant revision. In this paper we argue that common-pool resource theories which assume natural resources are inherently passive cannot adequately account for the system of active relationships operating among Inuit in Arctic Canada. The co-management system of Nunavut Territory, Canada, uses a flexible quota approach, which, while following conservation guidelines, allows some space for the traditional Inuit-polar bear system to operate. This example shows how common-pool resources may be managed sustainably without the attendant assumption that natural resources exist passively outside of common-pool resource regimes.


Common-pool resources Property Management Polar bears Indigenous Hunting Inuit 



The authors acknowledge support for research and writing from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Eben Hopson Fellowship in Arctic Studies at McGill University, the Government of Nunavut, the Northern Scientific Training Program, Arctic Net, and the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation. The author’s also acknowledge the thoughtful insights of the anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.Lakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada

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