NWT wants GN to cut Bathurst caribou harvest in western Nunavut

"We suspect these further declines, in large part, reflect poor environmental conditions"

By JANE GEORGE

This map shows the ranges of the barren-ground caribou herds in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut from 2006 to 2012 — the Bluenose-East and the Bathurst caribou herds roam between the NWT and Nunavut. (FILE IMAGE)


This map shows the ranges of the barren-ground caribou herds in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut from 2006 to 2012 — the Bluenose-East and the Bathurst caribou herds roam between the NWT and Nunavut. (FILE IMAGE)

A barren-land caribou forages in this photo from the GNWT, whose recently-released preliminary survey results show a huge decline in the herd numbers. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GNWT)


A barren-land caribou forages in this photo from the GNWT, whose recently-released preliminary survey results show a huge decline in the herd numbers. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GNWT)

The numbers of the Bathurst caribou herd are in free-fall, according to the preliminary results of a 2015 survey, which says this herd, half-a-million strong 30 years ago, may now have shrunk to 16,000 animals.

But that’s not the only problem: there’s no agreement yet between the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories about what actions to take to keep the numbers from decreasing even more.

The Tlicho regional government recently reported its decision to not harvest the Bathurst caribou herd for the 2015-16 hunting season.

“We applaud the Tlicho Government for showing strong leadership in dealing with this crisis,” said J. Michael Miltenberger, the GNWT’s minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, said in the Oct. 22 news release.

“It is a very tough choice that recognizes the need for strong actions to conserve the Bathurst herd for current and future generations.”

But the GN hasn’t come out with a similar pronouncement: Environment Minister Johnny Mike has only said that the GN shares the GNWT concerns, but Nunavut hunters take less than 100 caribou from the Bathurst herd.

The GN said in an Oct. 29 statement to Nunatsiaq News that the environment department did submit quota recommendations for both the Bathurst and Bluenose East caribou herds to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in June 2015, after community consultations.

“Since this submission was made, new survey results have shown further declines in both herds. In response to these new survey results, the Department has conducted further consultations with the communities to establish whether a lower Total Allowable Harvest limit should be recommended,” the environment department said.

The Department of Environment said it plans will bring “any new information and recommendations” forward through the NWMB decision-making process.

“This is the appropriate forum in which to discuss these issues, and we encourage all interested parties to make their views known during this process,” the department’s statement said.

Hunters in the Kitikmeot region said in 2014 that they favoured more predator control over harvest restrictions.

As set out in a September news release, the GNWT wants to see:

• an inter-jurisdictional agreement with the GN to collaborate on research, monitoring and management actions for shared herds;

• a management plan for the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds;

• a mechanism for the long-term management of the Bathurst herd; and,

• a range plan for the Bathurst herd.

This past June and July, survey teams with representatives from the GNWT, the GN, the Tlicho Government, Wek’eezhii Renewable Resources Board, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, NWT Métis Nation and numerous community representatives flew over the calving grounds of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East.

The preliminary results from their surveys show that the number of animals in the Bathurst herd has dropped from about 32,000 in 2012 to between 16,000 and 22,000 in 2015.  

The number of breeding cows, what the GNWT calls “a crucial indicator of herd health,” has dropped by 50 per cent to about 8,000.  In 1986, the herd numbered about 470,000.

And the Bluenose-East herd has also declined by roughly 8,000 animals in 2013 to somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 caribou in 2015.

Population data indicates the number of breeding cows in the herd went down by 50 per cent from 34,000 in 2013 to 17,000 in 2015.

“Although the evidence is incomplete, we suspect these further declines, in large part, reflect poor environmental conditions, possibly on the summer range, are leading to reduced pregnancy rates and reduced calf survival rates,” said the GNWT ungulates wildlife biologist, Jan Adamczewski, in the recent release.

But at this month’s Kitikmeot Inuit Association annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay, a lands and environment report slammed the GNWT for its finger-pointing at Nunavut, for its harvest of barren-land caribou herds.

The KIA said the GNWT advocates for protection of caribou calving grounds in Nunavut from mineral and development, but, at the same time, the GNWT allows mineral exploration and development in caribou ranges on its own territory.

“In the future the KIA board may be faced with hard decisions regarding issues related to economic development, Inuit owned lands and caribou calving grounds,” the KIA report said.

The KIA wants Inuit owned lands to be designated for “mixed use” in the future Nunavut Land Use Plan so that the KIA can manage the lands it owns.

The KIA would also like to see “mobile protection measures” for caribou so developers can stop or adjust operations when caribou are nearby as well as more GN resources for caribou monitoring.

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