Quebec Innu who have been accused of killing the threatened caribou of Labrador feel the animals are plentiful enough to warrant a hunt, their lawyer said Tuesday.
Newfoundland and Labrador government officials have denounced the group of hunters who have travelled by snowmobile from eastern Quebec into the Labrador wilderness.
Conservation officers with the Department of Natural Resources said more than 45 of the 108 animals in the protected Joir River herd have already been killed.
But Ken Rock, a Quebec lawyer who is representing two of the three Innu bands involved in the hunt, said his clients do not believe the hunt is illegal or that the animals are even threatened.
"What I hear from the members … is that there are not only 108 caribou; there are thousands of them maybe 2,000-2,500," he said.
Rock said Quebec Innu want to sit down and talk with provincial government officials. He said the Innu will stop hunting in Labrador if they're convinced that the caribou there are part of a threatened herd.
But Dunderdale said the government has actually met with Quebec Innu leaders numerous times in the past five years.
"[We have been] educating them as to the status of these animals, underlining the importance of protecting these animals, and asking them not to engage in the hunt. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, that plea has fallen on deaf ears," she said.
Dunderdale insisted that Quebec Innu have threatened conservation officers who have monitored the situation in helicopters.
Meanwhile, conservationists are questioning the actions of the Quebec Innu.
Jim Shaeffer, a biology professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., who had worked as the regional biologist in Labrador in the late 1990s, said it is not at all hard to destroy an endangered herd of caribou.
"We used to talk about a White Bear Lake herd in back of Postville. It was estimated to be perhaps a thousand animals," Shaeffer said. "We do know that hundreds of animals were being taken a year, and that population disappeared in the 1970s."
Hollis Yetman, a former conservation officer who spent time monitoring the Joir River herd, confirmed that the number of animals is very small.
"The caribou are not there. I mean, there are a couple of small pockets of caribou, and I don't know why they would pursue them," he said.
"It's beyond me."