Proposed new NWT wildlife regulations include a ban on using radio-controlled drones to hunt animals – unless the hunters involved are exercising Aboriginal treaty rights.
The territory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources is consulting residents on the proposals. Measures included in the draft regulations are not yet final and could be changed if the department encounters significant disagreement from members of the public.
Also being updated are rules governing when you can possess or import certain types of animal in the NWT, alongside regulations introducing a new training course most novice hunters will have to take.
Residents can leave feedback online or attend a series of open-house sessions.
Drone hunting has proved controversial in other jurisdictions.
For example, concerns have been expressed about the consequences for outfitters. One Nova Scotia outfitter told the CBC last summer: "A lot of guides, we have to have a course and a licence, and we spend time to get that. We have to know the outdoors and all the different things that we do. If someone can just take a drone and fly it around, there's really no need for us."
In Ontario, opponents said the use of drones was "not actually hunting" and "not very sporting."
The topic was not covered the last time the territory's regulations were revised, in 2014, as NWT officials felt they required more time to study the issue.
"Others jurisdictions in Canada have restricted the use of drones for hunting. But you can’t just snap your fingers and have a law – we needed to have some more input," said Rob Gau, the NWT's manager of biodiversity conservation.
Gau said the territory wants to abide by the fair chase philosophy, which states anything hunted should have a fair chance of being caught or escaping, while also respecting Aboriginal treaty rights.
"Fair chase is very enshrined by a lot of hunters but the use of drones and regulating the use of drones is another issue," Gau told Cabin Radio.
"We’ve heard everything from making sure fair chase is followed, to making sure peoples' Aboriginal treaty rights are protected. We want feedback on how we should proceed."
The draft regulations as currently written would ban licensed hunters – those with general, resident, non-resident, and non-resident alien hunting licences – from using drones. Drones would, however, be available to Indigenous hunters in most circumstances.
Drone restrictions would apply to both big game such as moose and deer, and small game such as geese and ducks.
'That's actually happened'
New regulations under consideration would also activate a Wildlife Act provision requiring hunters to take a training course.
Currently, there is no such requirement. The regulations, however, exempt a wide range of people who already have hunting experience.
"The proposed regulations would exempt anybody exercising an Aboriginal treaty right, people that can prove they’ve had a hunting licence in the NWT or another Canadian jurisdiction, and people who can prove they have taken a hunter education course in another jurisdiction," said Gau.
The safety of the NWT's native species forms another area where new regulations are proposed.
Rules around ownership and importing of certain animals are strengthened, while new measures to protect animals – such as building fences to keep sheep and wood bison apart – are introduced.
"If you own a sheep or are planning to bring one in, and you are going to live in a place where there are wood bison populations, there will be potential restrictions in place regarding sheep ownership," explained Gau.
"You need to have a fence in place preventing nose-to-nose contact, for example. There’s a disease that can easily pass between sheep and wood bison."
Llamas, surprisingly, are another issue. Gau says the territory has been working on llama-related legislation ever since an enterprising soul brought them into the Mackenzie mountains as pack animals.
"That’s actually happened. That was a few years ago, but we have confirmed reports," he said.
"Llamas are pretty hardy animals. The issue with them is they are another species with the real potential to transmit disease to our wild sheep populations. They are one of a number of species we are looking at putting restrictions on.
"Right now you can [bring anything in]. That’s the reason why we need regulations. The wording in the Act and the absence of regulations [mean that] right now people can do that."
The full range of proposed regulatory amendments is available on ENR's website.
Anyone with feedback should contact their local ENR officer, drop into their local ENR office, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open-house sessions are scheduled for Norman Wells on May 9 and Yellowknife on May 28, with more dates to follow. Contact ENR for further details.