The territorial government is rolling out new regulations to protect wildlife from disease and conserve habitat – affecting the likes of moose, caribou, bats, and raptors.
The regulations, attached to the Wildlife Act, come into effect on July 1. Among the new items, the NWT proactively declares wild pigs to be pests – meaning they can be killed without a licence should they reach the NWT.
There are no reported sightings of the pigs inside the territory to date, but they are believed to be moving closer.
The updated regulations also make it easier for non-resident harvesters to hunt, and provide wildlife management and monitoring plans to ensure developers minimize their impact on wildlife and habitat.
This is the second set of major regulatory amendments published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) in this area, following three years of consultation. The territory’s Wildlife Act first came into force in November 2014.
The regulations address chronic wasting disease – a highly contagious, fatal disease affecting the likes of deer and elk, about which the Dene Nation recently expressed concern.
The disease has yet to reach the territory, but Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya fears that point may be close. The disease also affects moose and caribou, and Yakeleya worries about the impact on the Dene way of life if chronic wasting disease arrives in the North.
Now, anyone trying to bring to the NWT a mule or white-tailed deer harvested 100 km or farther outside the territory’s borders must have it tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD).
“CWD is a disease that can impact all members of the deer family … and can result in significant mortality,” explained Rob Gau, the NWT’s manager of biodiversity conservation.
“CWD is known to occur in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but it’s currently not found in Northwest Territories. So for this reason, we’re putting in place measures to prevent the importation of live deer and prohibiting certain parts of harvested deer.”
Only deer meat without the bone is allowed in without testing. Even taxidermy mounts won’t get the OK unless cleared, as the antlers can carry the disease.
Also among the updated regulations, llamas, alpaca, domestic goats, and sheep, which can carry respiratory diseases, are not allowed in the Mackenzie and Richardson Mountains – where wild sheep live.
In any area with wild bison, owners of domestic sheep must get a domestic animal permit from ENR as sheep can infect bison with malignant catarrhal fever.
“This virus has really high mortality rates in wood bison if sheep come in nose-to-nose contact with them,” explained Gau.
The new regulations also protect the nests of bats and birds of prey from being intentionally destroyed. Now, raptor nests cannot be taken down even if they are empty.
If someone needs to remove a nest from their property, they must consult ENR and get a free wildlife general permit.
‘Smart, elusive’ pigs
Taking proactive steps to protect the NWT from wild pigs, ENR now allows any loose pigs to be killed without a licence.
The pigs were spotted 200 km from the NWT-Alberta border in 2012, but there have been no other nearby reported sightings since. Canada does not have a population estimate for the wild pigs, said officials, as they are hard to find.
If the pigs make it to the NWT, they could infect animals with diseases like brucellosis and tuberculosis and shred the natural habitat. In a recent Maclean’s article, the swine were said to be “among the world’s worst invasive species.”
“These animals cause significant and vast damage to our habitat,” Gau said. “They’re smart … they’re elusive … they’re very opportunistic.”
One of ENR’s big concerns is that the pigs would enter the NWT through Wood Buffalo National Park, tearing up endangered whooping crane breeding grounds on their way north.
“So they’re all-around nasty and we don’t want them here,” said Gau, adding the wild pigs are also carriers of ticks and can grow to be larger than a black bear.
ENR has also revised the hunting season for boreal caribou. (Formerly referred to as “woodland caribou,” ENR now distinguishes between “boreal caribou” and “northern mountain caribou.”) The season for bulls-only harvesting now runs from July 15 to December 15. Prior to July 1, the season ran until January 31.
Drone hunting regulations coming
Still to come are harvester training regulations, which will include a requirement to take a hunter education course – and regulations relating to the use of drones for hunting.
ENR said there was agreement among those consulted that using drones to hunt should be prohibited, but this is not currently reflected in legislation.
The department, citing the need for more collaboration with co-management partners, could not give a timeline for the completion of drone hunting regulations.
“During our consultations, drones was far and away the most talked-about item,” said Brett Elkin, ENR’s director of wildlife.
“We got tremendous support for moving forward [with a ban on drones]. But we need to make sure we do it right.”