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Environment

New recovery plan as Bathurst herd continues to shrink


New figures suggest the NWT’s Bathurst caribou herd remains in decline. A committee composed of various governments has released the latest plan to save the herd. 

Shane Thompson, the environment minister, said this week the herd “is still in serious trouble.” There are now estimated to be 6,240 Bathurst caribou, down from 8,200 in 2018 and almost half a million in the 1980s.

Thompson said the new plan is “critical” to the Bathurst herd’s long-term recovery, though a series of past plans have proved unable to arrest the decline.

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The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or ENR, said while the herd’s numbers have dropped, “the difference is not statistically significant, and the herd’s rate of decline has slowed from numbers recorded prior to 2018”. 

ENR said there were some bright spots in the survey, pointing to “improving trends” in the cow survival rate, and the ratios of both calves to cows and bulls to cows.

The new management plan comes from the Bathurst Caribou Advisory Committee, made up of 14 public and Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations. The plan’s goal is the “short-term recovery and long-term resilience of the Bathurst herd.”

Earlier this year, the committee asked residents for feedback on a draft management plan.

The plan includes harvesting restrictions, predator management, habitat monitoring, and actions to raise awareness. 

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Past attempts to stem the decline included bans on harvesting, a rescue plan, and wolf culling programs.  

The mining industry and over-hunting have been cited as additional burdens for caribou herds to overcome. Several Indigenous governments, for example, have raised concern about the possible impact of a proposed new open pit at the Ekati diamond mine on migratory caribou routes.

Population figures suggest other barren-ground herds aren’t faring as poorly as the Bathurst.

The only other herd to see a drop in population estimates since the 2018 survey was the Bluenose-West herd — now at 18,440, down from 21,000.

The Bluenose-East and Cape Bathurst herds (a distinct herd from the Bathurst) each saw small increases, while the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula herd more than doubled to just over 3,000 estimated animals.

ENR typically collects population estimates every three years for the NWT’s barren-ground caribou herds. A 2020 plan to collect early estimates of two herds with continued declines – the Bathurst and Bluenose-East – was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The next population survey is scheduled for 2023-24.

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