The N.W.T. government banned hunting of the Bathurst caribou herd in the territory's North Slave region on Jan. 1. The ban remains in place while officials decide on a management plan for the herd.

A new proposal to save the dwindling Bathurst caribou herd in the Northwest Territories suggests replacing a current hunting ban with a target number of caribou that can be hunted.

Details of the proposal, jointly drafted by the N.W.T. government and the Tlicho Dene government, were outlined Thursday at the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board's latest public hearing in Behchoko, N.W.T.

Both governments have been working on a management plan for the Bathurst caribou after territorial surveys found that the herd's population had dropped from about 120,000 animals in 2006 to 31,900 last year.

At the start of this year, the N.W.T. government imposed a hunting ban in a large area of the territory's North Slave region where the herd is known to spend its winters. The ban sparked outrage among Dene who have long hunted caribou for food.

But under the proposed management plan, the N.W.T. and Tlicho governments suggest allowing about 300 caribou to be harvested each year.

Targets, not tags: lawyers

Legal counsel for the Tlicho government said having a target of 300 caribou would be better than the standard government practice of assigning exactly 300 hunting tags, as setting absolute rules would create resistance among hunters rather than co-operation.

The governments also outlined their plans for enforcement, saying a working group of Tlicho and territorial officials would monitor the harvest and take note of the herd's numbers.

As well, territorial government officials say they're look at creating local caribou committees to monitor harvest numbers in communities where Bathurst caribou are hunted.

More than 50 people attended Thursday's public hearing, including hunting outfitters, First Nations leaders, representatives from governments and groups, as well as members of the general public.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board, a wildlife management authority that covers the Tlicho region, is reviewing the governments' joint proposal and must decide how best to manage the Bathurst caribou herd.

"We're looking forward to hearing what everybody has to say on the revisions, and we want to make the right decisions, so any ideas that anybody has will always be considered," Grant Pryznyk, the board's interim chairman, told CBC News.

Balancing conservation, tradition

The latest plan is the third to be proposed by the N.W.T. and Tlicho governments. The previous plans were scrapped because the Tlicho did not support all of the conditions.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board will look at a number of ways to conserve the Bathurst caribou herd, from imposing hunting quotas to culling predatory animals such as wolves.

Tlicho senior advisor John B. Zoe said the real issue is trying to find a happy medium between protecting the caribou herd and not infringing too much on traditional Dene lifestyles.

"We're concentrating mostly on the Bathurst [herd] and what might be a safe level to harvest as a target," Zoe said. "It will be monitored to make sure it doesn't contribute to a further decline."

Zoe said the target number for harvesting caribou is around 300 animals, mostly bulls. However, who gets to hunt and how many each person can hunt has yet to be decided.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board is expected to come up with a management plan for the Bathurst caribou herd by Oct. 9. The current hunting ban in the North Slave remains in place in the meantime.

With files from the CBC's Angele Dubois