The Northwest Territories government's estimates on the Bathurst caribou herd's population came under fire Monday, as a weeklong hearing began into the herd's management.
The territorial government wants to halt the hunting of Bathurst caribou, citing a sharp decline in the herd.
CBC Radio in the N.W.T. is broadcasting live from the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board hearings from 1 to 4 p.m. MT every day this week.
The broadcasts will be in the Dene languages and English. You can listen live online. (Choose the Yellowknife or Inuvik radio streams.)
But the proposal, and an interim hunting ban imposed this year in the herd's winter grounds — in the territory's Tlicho region — have outraged Dene leaders and hunters who have long relied on caribou.
The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board, a wildlife co-management authority set up under the Tlicho land-claim agreement, began hearing the government's proposal Monday in Behchoko.
The N.W.T. Environment Department estimates there were roughly 31,900 caribou in the Bathurst herd last year, compared with 128,000 caribou in 2006.
"Under these conditions, the rapid decline of the herd would continue, and the herd could disappear in four to five years," government wildlife biologist Jan Adamczewski said at the hearing Monday.
Adamczewski said the herd's numbers are crashing, and dismissed arguments from critics who say the caribou have simply migrated elsewhere.
'Everybody seems to be guessing': outfitter
But not everyone believes the government's arguments, with some saying the numbers are just guesses.
"I'm wondering where all these hypotheses come from? Everybody seems to be guessing," hunting outfitter Barry Taylor said. "Is there one person in charge of the guesses?"
Aboriginal officials at the hearing, like Todd Slack of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, also criticized the N.W.T. government for primarily blaming hunters in the caribou debate so far.
Quoting Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger, Slack said, "He indicated that caribou management is, and I quote, 'not just a hunting issue,' and that the broader issues such as development would be addressed.
"Yet after reviewing this proposal, I see nothing that suggests anything but hunting or harvesting is being discussed," Slack added.
The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board's hearings into the Bathurst caribou herd continue through Friday.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Todd Slack of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation as John Slack.Apr 08, 2010 9:50 AM CT