Nfld. & Labrador

'It's just a matter of time': dire warning on illegal caribou hunt in Labrador

A retired conservation officer predicts a caribou herd will soon vanish if the province doesn't change its tactics on illegal hunts.
Frank Phillips estimates there are about 40 caribou left in the herd, (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

A recently retired conservation officer in Labrador predicts a caribou herd in the province will soon vanish if the province doesn't change its tactics to deal with continued illegal hunts.

"If nothing changes, it's just a matter of time, and not a long time, before they're gone totally," said Frank Phillips about the herd of caribou living in the Birchy Lakes area of Labrador.

Phillips, who retired in 2013, estimates there are about 40 caribou left in the herd — a subgroup of the Mealy Mountain herd.

Four animals of the group are alleged to have been shot in Oct. by three Innu hunters from the Pakua Shipi band of Quebec, who were arrested and charged by fish and wildlife enforcement officers.

Enforcement efforts 'powerless'

The October incident is the latest in a string of illegal caribou hunts in Labrador.

"The province seems to be fairly powerless at stopping it," Phillips told Labrador Morning.

Phillips said current enforcement tactics are clearly not working.

"If you keep on doing same thing for decade after decade and nothing changes. Well, maybe you better change what you're doing."

"It can't get any worse, this steady confrontation, and every year it keeps going on and on and on," said Phillips, who added such confrontations often include firearms and can prove dangerous.

"Some of the people that you're confronting feel they have every right to be doing what they're doing."

Land claim negotiations

Phillips said it's time to acknowledge the Innu's right to the area of Labrador in question.

"There's no doubt about their land, their lawyer said it's their place, they've been there for thousands of years, everybody knows that," said Phillips.

"But the province has a long history, whether it's with our own Innu, or with those Innu, of ignoring this, or being ignorant of it."

He urged the province to consider land claim negotiations in Labrador with the Quebec Innu, "with conservation being a kingpin, or a main point of those negotiations."

"I don't know if it'll work out or not, but I know what hasn't worked out is what's been going on for decades now. Maybe it's time to try something different."

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