Earl Evans remembers his first caribou hunting trip fondly. It was 1965 when the young Métis from Fort Smith, N.W.T., headed out to Hardisty Lake and came home with six caribou from what he guesses was either the Bathurst or Bluenose East caribou herd.
"The lake was just trampled with caribou tracks. For miles and miles. It looked just like a barnyard."
Now chair of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, Evans says there are many factors contributing to the 'alarming decline' in the Bluenose East and Bathurst herds, but human factors are chief among them.
"There's a lot of animals that are being taken that aren't being recorded," Evans says.
Evans says wastage is also a big problem.
He acknowledges climate change and development as issues of concern, but estimates that wastage counts for about 25 to 30 per cent of the animals lost.
"A lot of people were saying, 'Oh, it's the resident hunters and the white people that are wasting caribou.' But once the resident hunters and the outfitters and everybody had been cut off, the wastage continued. And it continued at an alarming rate."
"Not only by not retrieving animals that you shoot, but also just taking pieces of animals or leaving them, not skinning them, just abandoning them."
Road access makes hunting too easy
Evans says the growth of industry is also a factor, but it's not the industry itself affecting the caribou.
"It opens up roads, winter roads, where there's never, ever been access."
Evans says not too many people will snowmobile 300 to 400 kilometres to get a dozen caribou. But when you have an access road, it's a different story.
"I mean, I do it all the time. It's easy. You load up your Skidoo and you drive down the road and you unload your Skidoo and you go hunting."
As more animals are taken, Evans says, more wastage takes place.
'I don't care if they don't like it'
Evans is aware he's talking about a "touchy subject." He's already had some feedback on his comments that aired on CBC Thursday.
"I went downtown and one guy said, 'Holy man, you're gonna have every native person in the country gunning for you now, talking like that on the radio.'
"I said, I'll talk like that on the radio or I'll talk like that wherever I go 'cause that's what's happening out there and somebody's got to address it and I don't care if they don't like it. Tough. Too bad.
"I don't really care what people think if I'm talking about it because I see it every time I go hunting. I see it and I don't like it."
Evans says there are a lot of responsible hunters out there, but he says there's also a lot of hunters who don't do their job.
"If everybody out there would just take the time, if they do kill a caribou, to make sure they take everything with them and have no wastage, just by doing that alone would really help the numbers come up."