The Yellowknives Dene is urging the N.W.T. government to cancel the annual sport hunt of caribou and limit the number of caribou hunting tags allocated to resident hunters, band officials announced Wednesday. ((CBC))

A First Nation in Yellowknife says it won't sponsor a traditional fall caribou hunt this year, in an effort to help protect the shrinking Bathurst caribou herd.

Chiefs and councillors with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation passed two resolutions last week, including one motion not to sponsor its traditional community hunt this fall.

In a release issued Wednesday, band officials called the move "a proactive management action taken by the First Nation, attempting to ease the hunting pressure on the herd during the sensitive post-calving period."

The decision is not a prohibition on treaty-protected subsistence-hunting rights, the band added.

Estimated 30,000 caribou

The fall hunt allows Yellowknives Dene to build traditional cultural knowledge and harvest meat for the community freezer in time for the winter.

But Dettah Chief Ed Sangris told CBC News that the territorial Environment Department told him there are only about 30,000 caribou in the Bathurst herd this year, based on preliminary figures from the government's latest caribou census.

Sangris said a healthy caribou herd needs 10 times that number.

The decline in the Bathurst herd's population has prompted the Northwest Territories government to limit caribou hunting quotas in recent years.

Mines, sport hunting blamed

The Yellowknives Dene also passed a motion calling on the territorial government to cancel the annual sport hunt of caribou and further cut the number of caribou hunting tags allocated to resident hunters.

"The government of the Northwest Territories allowed the sport hunt to proceed, despite shockingly low preliminary numbers from the Bathurst caribou population census," the release stated in part.

Final numbers from the government's census are expected to be released some time this fall.

Sangris said the territory's mines and ice roads are also to blame, as they're scaring caribou away from their traditional migration route "with all that interference, the vibration from the blasts, the pollution and everything else."

He added that caribou are especially vulnerable during their calving season in the spring.

Sangris said the First Nation is redirecting its efforts on education and on harvesting alternative traditional foods such as fish and moose.