In the past two weeks, more than 80 Bathurst caribou have been killed inside a mobile no-hunting zone. Wasted meat and parts from another 12 caribou were also found outside the zone last weekend.
North Slave Indigenous leaders and the territorial government issued a joint statement on Friday morning calling the harvest illegal, disrespectful, and disappointing.
The Bathurst herd has seen a 98-percent decline since 1986. In November 2018, the NWT government estimated there were only 8,200 caribou left in the herd.
NWT environment minister Shane Thompson, Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie, Łutsel Kʼe Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe, were among those issuing a statement on Friday condemning what had happened.
Together, they called for responsible harvesting.
“Working together, the decision was made to close the harvest of Bathurst caribou and put in place a mobile no-hunting zone [in 2015] to protect the herd,” the statement reads.
“Hunters should not be harvesting in this zone given the fragile state of the Bathurst herd.”
The NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said officers seized meat and gave tickets to hunters they caught over the weekend.
The department says it monitors the mobile zone daily using both air and ground patrols to ensure people are not hunting the fragile herd.
A photograph supplied to Cabin Radio shows people on the ice road northeast of Yellowknife harvesting an animal on March 22, 2020.
Two residents reported illegal hunting of caribou to Cabin Radio in March. One said an ENR monitoring station on the ice road to the diamond mines appeared closed when they passed it on March 22, noting what they called a “disgusting” amount of caribou harvesting happening in the area.
The same resident said the monitoring station looked to be open again two days later.
A spokesperson for the department said at no time would the station have been closed. The department says officers would have been out on patrol at the time the resident passed the station.
Hunters not physically distancing
“Over the weekend, hunters along the winter road were observed travelling and gathering and visiting in groups,” the leaders’ statement continued.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NWT’s chief public health officer has asked residents to practise physical distancing and maintain two metres between themselves and others to prevent the spread of the virus.
“[The chief public health officer] supports people going out on the land, but only with their immediate family or people they live with,” the leaders said.
“We understand this is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone,” said Thompson.
“It is up to all of us to ensure we are making good decisions to protect the health and safety of our communities and the future of our caribou.
“There are other animals that can be legally harvested at this time, including moose, muskox, fish, small game, and other caribou herds. We encourage people to look at other options, and to harvest other animals respectfully and sustainably.”
Update: April 4, 2020 – 14:43 MT. This article reports the view of one resident that, when they passed an ENR monitoring station on the ice road on March 22, it was closed. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources states the station was not closed, but officers were out patrolling at the time.