The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board says some hunters along the winter road to the NWT’s diamond mines are not acting appropriately hunting caribou.
The board’s chair and experienced hunter, Earl Evans, said he went out to one of the hunting camps and witnessed actions that saw “every regulation in the book being violated.”
“Snowmobiles chasing caribou, people shooting into the herds, hunters using the wrong calibre of rifle required to make a clean kill and/or not retrieving their kills, pollution, and outright dangerous hunting,” he said in a press release on Monday.
Over 50 caribou have been illegally harvested this year, which are currently being investigated. At this point last year, there were less than 10 incidents, according to Shane Thompson, the minister of environment and natural resources.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Evans said this is nothing new – year-after-year there have been issues related to irresponsible harvesting, although the vast majority of harvesters are participating in the hunt in a proper manner.
He did say, however, that it’s the worst he’s seen in 50 years.
Those who plan to hunt need to be respectful and ensure they are treating the animals and the land with respect and are taking only what they need, he said.
“There’s a lot of good hunters out there who are being painted with the same brush, and they’re not the people that are concerning. It’s the people that are leaving the wastage and chasing and harassing these animals that we have to deal with,” Evans said.
Evans says a primary reason why there is such an increase in disrespectful harvesting is when the temperatures warm up and more hunters go out. Another contributing factor is that each year more Elders stop participating in the hunt and new hunters with less experience take their place.
Lee Mandeville, an environmental and natural resources wildlife officer, said inexperienced hunters should speak with Elders and harvesters with expertise before they leave to get an idea of how to hunt respectfully.
The winter road provides easy access to the area which results in large amounts of hunters going to the area. Evans says conservation officers are doing what they can, but the area is too large for them to properly cover.
He added there are still several weeks of caribou hunting left, which peaks at the end of March.
Evans said the Beverly and Bathurst caribou herds have mixed this year, making it more crucial for hunters to be careful about the practices they use.
Fines already handed out
Earlier this year, ENR announced they were cracking down on illegal harvesting within the mobile Bathurst caribou management zone.
Caribou within that zone cannot be hunted, something Thompson says need to be adhered to, alongside respectful practices.
Mandeville said this year there is a new mobile camp set up and five officers rotating weekly from different postings that patrol on snowmobiles, aerial patrols like helicopters and planes, and trucks.
Officers also work with hunters and experienced harvesters on the ground.
Mandeville says several people have already been charged for violations the Wildlife Act this year for various reasons related to caribou hunting.
Those charges can include wastage, abandoning wounded animals, hunting withing the mobile core Bathurst management zone, and littering.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s really upsetting for our officers and good harvesters to come across.”
The fines associated with charges can vary depending on what the nature of the incident is.
Thompson said illegal meat sales are also being looked into for people who try to make a profit off of the caribou they hunt.
Herds in decline
Evans said up to 20 communities rely on the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herd’s survival for food, adding that one caribou can feed a family for two or three months.
“If those herds are gone, what’s going to happen – how are these people going to live?” he asked.
“There’s a lot of consequences to this.”
In 2018, the NWT had listed barren-ground caribou as a threatened species, as all but one herd – the Porcupine herd – are seeing numbers decline.
The two herds – the Beverly and the Qamanirjuaq – both consist of barren-ground caribou that exist and travel over several provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
The Beverly caribou herd, according to information from the territorial government, is an estimated 103,000 animals that extend from areas in Saskatchewan, the NWT, and Nunavut.
Meanwhile, the Qamanirjuaq herd straddles Manitoba and Nunavut, with some portions in the southeast NWT and northeastern Saskatchewan.
In 2017, the herd size was estimated at 288,000.
There is a mix factors that are thought to contribute to the decline of the caribou in the territory, like climate change, predators, and human activity, including industrial activity and disrespectful hunting, according to Thompson.
“When I talk to Elders and leaders there are real fears that these practices will push us towards a future no one wants to see, one where caribou aren’t there, one where their children won’t be able to bring home meat for their children,” he said.
“The solution, Elders and leaders tell me, is rooted in respectful harvesting practices – respect for the animal respect for the land. Respect for knowledge, traditional knowledge.”
Minister Thompson said there are more efforts to try and create more opportunities for hunters to learn respectful practices.
There are programs offered through the government, like sighting rifles, hunter education, and on-the-land programs.
ENR is also expecting to be rolling out some new programs and initiatives soon.
Evans said one solution he’d like to see is adding more time in classes to teach children about respectful harvesting, something he says has drastically decreased over the years.
He added having on-the-land camps will help children learn more about hunting firsthand from experienced hunters and trappers.
“Schools have been teaching over the years conservation and all good practices of looking after the environment and stuff, but they’re slowly getting away from that element now,” he said.
“We don’t need the computers here all the time, we need some common sense for the people coming through.”