Network of guardians working to protect Bathurst caribou
Indigenous governments throughout the Bathurst caribou’s range are pooling information and collaborating to form a plan to help the herd recover.
The network – called the Caribou Guardians Coalition , or CGC – aims to foster collaboration between existing guardianship programs and support the establishment of new ones.
Members of the coalition met in Yellowknife last week to discuss their progress.
Some guardianship programs are just getting off the ground whereas others have been around for years, said Earl Evans, a CGC representative for the NWT Métis Nation who also chairs the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
“Everybody’s at a different stage,” he said.
The Bathurst herd is in need of urgent attention, a recent press release from the CGC stated. The herd ranges from southern and central parts of the NWT to Bathurst Inlet in Nunavut. In recent decades, its numbers have plummeted more than 98 percent: The population went from a high of about 470,000 animals in the mid-1980s to 6,240 animals in 2021, according to territorial figures.
“That herd is so low now, it’s just about non-existent,” Evans said.
In response to the dramatic declines, the GNWT published a range plan in 2019 to support the herd’s recovery. One of the plan’s recommendations, brought forward by Indigenous partners, was to develop a regional guardianship program.
The idea, Evans said, is to bring together Indigenous people who use caribou, share information about what they’re seeing across the herd’s range, and identify ways to improve habitat and increase the herd’s size.
Evans said several factors affect caribou, including climate change, land disturbances, predators and invasive species to name a few. In different areas along the herd’s range, some factors are more prevalent than others. Each guardianship program will have its own unique insights, he said.
“We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can make suggestions and try to try to improve conditions where we can,” Evans said.
“If you have a healthy habitat, healthy land, healthy water, you got healthy caribou. And with healthy caribou, you have healthy people.”
Since 2020, the CGC has held six workshops. Although the Covid-19 pandemic slowed progress, Evans said the group is now looking to establish a head office in Yellowknife. The coalition has also proposed a summit to bring together decision-makers, Elders, harvesters and youth.
Through that summit, the group could provide recommendations to government and find out how the territory could support the coalition’s work, Evans said, adding that with several Indigenous groups being part of the coalition, the group has a “powerful voice.”
However, the network’s ongoing work depends on securing additional funding. Previous funding arrangements through Polar Knowledge Canada, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk have come to an end, Evans said.
Evans said that people will likely head out to harvest caribou in March, so there’s no better time to bring attention to the herd’s dire situation.
“We have to do something,” he said. “It might be a little bit too late, but we can do the best we can.”