The Northwest Territories government is working on a new five-year plan to monitor the territory's barren-ground caribou herds and help them grow.

Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger tabled a draft of the government's 2011-2015 caribou management strategy on Thursday.

The plan builds on the government's previous five-year strategy, which focused on stabilizing declining caribou numbers.

Miltenberger said under the draft plan, population censuses of all caribou herds will be conducted every three years. Government officials will monitor the herds and have guidelines for what to do when a herd's population begin to decline.

"When the herd hits certain numbers, certain actions take place automatically," Miltenberger told CBC News.

"You don't have to have the kind of political issues we have here, where all of a sudden we get some numbers in and we have the big debate about what do you do about it. We want to have that type of work all anticipated and planned for."

Recent population declines

Caribou herds in the N.W.T. declined by 36 to 91 per cent from the 1990s to the late-2000s, according to the draft plan.

Some of those herds — the Bathurst, Bluenose West and East, Cape Bathurst and Porcupine herds — have stabilized in the past few years, thanks in part to hunting restrictions and other herd management practices.

But other herds, such as the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Beverly and Ahiak and Dolphin-Union herds, continue to decline, according to the plan.

Miltenberger said a coordinated approach to caribou management will make it easier in parts of the N.W.T. where there are both settled and unsettled land claims.

The N.W.T. Environment Department is accepting input on the draft plan until April 15. Miltenberger said he hopes to have a final plan in place in May.