A file photo of barren-ground caribou. Alexandre Paiement/WWF-Canada
The Northwest Territories government is asking for residents’ input on a plan that aims to help preserve and recover declining Bathurst caribou herd numbers.
In a news release on Tuesday, the territory said a committee seeks feedback on a draft management plan for the herd that covers areas like harvesting, predators, habitat, communication, education, research, and monitoring.
“Caribou have sustained generations in our territory and our government has a responsibility to do everything we can to help ensure they’ll sustain many more,” environment minister Shane Thompson was quoted as saying.
“With the Bathurst herd in real trouble, we’re pleased to be moving forward with urgency to chart a strong path to recovery and resilience. With collaboration across the North, and valued perspectives from the public, I am confident we will get this plan right.”
The draft plan was developed by 17 organizations, the territory said, including Indigenous governments, hunters and trappers’ associations, and management boards across the NWT, Nunavut, and Saskatchewan.
Local governments will hold Zoom sessions on the draft plan with leadership, harvesters, and traditional knowledge-holders. You can submit comments by email until May 31.
Numbers of Bathurst caribou have dramatically declined over the past three decades. At the herd’s peak in 1986, some 472,000 animals were counted. By 2018, that number had dropped to 8,200. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of breeding cows alone decreased by 3,000 animals, or almost 40 percent.
It’s unclear what exactly is causing the decline of the Bathurst caribou. Traditional knowledge indicates that barren-ground caribou numbers have fluctuated over time, while disease, fire, climate change, predators, and industrial development are also believed to be factors.
In 2012, the NWT government created the Core Bathurst Caribou Mobile Zone, a moving zone where hunting is prohibited to protect the herd. It’s based on animal collaring data and is monitored by wildlife officers.
The territorial and Tłı̨chǫ governments have tried limiting the number of wolves preying on caribou, including shooting them from helicopters. In 2020, 36 wolves were killed from the air while 130 were killed by harvesters on the ground.
The Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board and Tłı̨chǫ grand chief recently criticized that pilot project, saying culling efforts should focus on ground-based rather than aerial methods. In response, the governments said they would increase ground-based harvesting but would take to the air “if required.”
Last month, the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board said “irresponsible” hunting practices had been taking place on the winter road to the NWT’s diamond mines. Board chair Earl Evans said most hunters are respectful but the rule-breaking he witnessed was the worst he had seen in 50 years.