nl-li-caribou-horizon-file

The population of the George River herd has dropped by more than 80 per cent over the last decade. (CBC )

The Newfoundland and Labrador government brought in new rules to govern a controversial caribou hunt that opens Tuesday, amid gloomy evaluations of the rapidly dwindling herd's health.

Environment Minister Terry French said legal hunting of the George River herd will last only three months, down from eight months.

The commercial harvest is also closed, and hunters will only be able to take one animal per licence, down from two.

Dwindling numbers of the George River herd

2001: 385,000

2010: 74,000

2011: 50,000

The government says the herd has shrunk from about 385,000 animals in 2001 to about 50,000 animals now.

The decline has been dramatic, with a census putting the population at about 74,000 last year.

French said monitoring in the wake of a census taken last year shows that the herd's numbers are dropping "despite major restrictions on harvesting that were implemented last fall."

In a statement, French said while a new hunt will open this week, it will require the cooperation and "a collaborative approach involving the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec, aboriginal organizations, and all other stakeholders built on the common interest of caribou conservation."

French said there is no clear explanation of what has triggered the drop in the herd's size, although scientists believe access to food has been an issue.

"Other factors such as predation, disease, parasites, and the effects of climate change, may also be contributing to the decline," the statement said.