Nunavut sets out three bleak choices for Baffin caribou harvest
GN prefers total moratorium on caribou hunting
If the Government of Nunavut gets its way, Baffin Island caribou meat might soon become a rare and perhaps illegal treat.
To prevent the total disappearance of caribou from Baffin Island, GN officials are offering three bleak options to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board — and none of them are appealing.
“Management actions should be enacted as soon as possible in order to reduce the risk of extirpation of some or all of the Baffin Island caribou population,” GN officials said in a six-page submission to the wildlife board, which is now public.
The term “extirpation” means the extinction of a species from a given geographic area, even though the species might survive elsewhere.
The wildlife board, which began meeting in Rankin Inlet Dec. 1, will see GN officials present these three choices:
• the GN’s preferred choice: a total moratorium on the harvest of all caribou on Baffin Island until the population recovers;
• a total allowable harvest for all of Baffin Island that restricts the harvest to bulls only and to one per cent of the estimated population, perhaps rising to three per cent if the population increases; or,
• a harvest ban on all core ranges of caribou on Baffin Island: North Baffin, Prince Charles Island, core areas of the Hall and Meta Incognita peninsulas and between Nettilling Lake and Amadjuak Lake.
GN officials say they don’t blame hunters for the precipitous decline of caribou on Baffin Island.
They said the decline is due to natural population cycles that occur every 50 to 90 years.
“These cycles are believed to be natural and result from the interaction of caribou and their habitat,” the GN submission said.
That’s because caribou numbers keep on growing until their habitat can’t support them.
And then their numbers crash.
“Caribou numbers increase until they surpass the carrying capacity of the environment, and then they decline precipitously to low numbers until the range conditions improve, at which time the cycle begins again,” the GN said in its submission
But even if hunters are not to blame, it’s hunters who must accept severe restrictions on the Baffin Island caribou harvest.
“Although the current decline is not being blamed on hunters, we believe over-harvesting, when there are so few animals, may lead to further decline and possibly even extirpation of this population,” the GN said.
On North Baffin, the population may already be facing total disappearance, the GN said.
Their population estimate for North Baffin, based on aerial surveys and Inuit knowledge, has shrunk to between 159 and 622 caribou — a 95 per cent decline.
At the same time, the GN’s department of the Environment estimates — roughly — that a “limited reported harvest” for North Baffin caribou amounts to 54 animals over the past 12 months.
That harvest, which includes cows as well as bulls, represents 17 per cent of the total North Baffin caribou population, the GN said.
But even a harvest of three per cent, bulls only, could lead to the extirpation of caribou from North Baffin, the GN said in its submission.
Overall, the GN estimates a population range of between 3,462 and 6,250 caribou on Baffin Island.
Within that range, their best guess is 4,652 caribou.
That breaks down to only 315 caribou in North Baffin and 2,734 on South Baffin.
If the population on Prince Charles Island, in the Foxe Basin, is added, the South Baffin total rises to 4,337
That means that if their second option — a 1 per cent harvest of bulls only — were adopted, an island-wide quota would amount to only 35 to 63 caribou.
That breaks down to a quota of only two to six caribou on North Baffin and a quota of 35 to 63 in South Baffin.
The GN has held consultations on the issue since 2013.
That included a workshop with hunters and trappers representatives and others in July 2013.
At that meeting, GN officials proposed a community-based approach in which HTOs would work with community members to restrict their harvest of caribou.
But no HTOs have implemented any community-based measures, the GN said.
“[A]nd there is some concern that not all Baffin HTOs have the capacity to implement restrictions on their members,” the submission said.
At another workshop, held in November 2014, many participants proposed per-household restrictions.
But the GN says that approach won’t work — because there are too many households.
“Unfortunately as there are currently 4,615 households on Baffin Island (as per Nunavut Bureau of Statistics), a per household allocation of even one caribou would deplete the entire caribou population,” the GN said.
The GN’s preferred option is a Baffin-wide moratorium on all caribou hunting until the population recovers.
“Removing all harvest from this population would be the most effective way to reduce risk,” the GN said.
The NWMB has yet to make a recommendation to GN Environment Minister Johnny Mike on Baffin Island caribou restrictions.
When they do make a recommendation to the minister, under the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, it will be kept secret until after the minister announces a decision.