As climate change pushes more species into the Northwest Territories, work is beginning to create a council charged with deciding each species’ fate.

Unlike many other jurisdictions, the NWT has no invasive species council tasked with developing a response when new species move in.

Work to create one begins on Friday as a conference on pests, pathogens, and invasive species wraps up in Yellowknife. Experts from other councils will guide NWT officials in the basics of establishing the territory’s own panel.

“Now is the time,” said wildlife biologist Dr Suzanne Carrière, who has spent the past two decades watching the territory’s species change.

In that time, coyotes have followed deer north to Yellowknife; cougars have entered the NWT; and Pacific salmon have rounded the Arctic coast to mount forays up the Mackenzie River.

‘Anybody’s guess’

“I don’t think people realize how complicated and wonderful it is out there,” Dr Carrière told Cabin Radio. “People think it’s frozen all winter then some more critters show up in summer, but we have a lot of species – probably between 25,000 and 30,000.

New names turn up on Dr Carrière’s lists of resident species all the time. “Dozens of species, every year,” she said. “I learn something new every week.”

As those species arrive, they pose a dilemma for northern wildlife experts. Do you aim to preserve the existing flora and fauna of the NWT, or accommodate the latecomers?

That question is complicated by the way the change is happening, said Dr Carrière.

“It’s not ecosystems that are moving up north, it’s bits of ecosystem, species by species,” she said. “Some are moving faster than others. We’ve seen this, it’s not a prediction.

“And the bits are functioning as something totally new. How long it’ll take to stabilize into a functioning ecosystem is anybody’s guess.

“My answer, personally, is that there’s no way to make a barrier to the south. I would like us to adapt, learn, and learn to live with it in a sense that does not cause more harm than we are already doing.”

‘A little step’

An invasive species council may govern more than the natural movement of species in response to climate change. The council could also exercise authority over residents looking to import types of plant and animal not currently found in the territory.

“Can I import those llamas, or pigs, or whatever?” Said Dr Carrière, providing examples. “What about chickens There’s a demand now for that kind of answer. Before, the priority was elsewhere.

“Our new agriculture strategy has a little line that says we’ll create a council, put people together, and try to strategize over those problems – pests, pathogens, and invasive species.

“Friday’s meeting is a little step, but at least this way we don’t make a big mistake and set up something that doesn’t work.”