Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador caribou herds won't be listed as endangered, government says

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has rejected a recommendation that it designate two caribou herds as endangered.

Province will work with Indigenous groups on joint management approach

According to estimates, fewer than 9,000 caribou remain in the George River herd in northern Labrador. There were eight times as many just seven years ago. (Submitted by Brandon Pardy)

The dwindling George River and Torngat Mountains caribou herds will not be listed as endangered, the Newfoundland and Labrador government said Tuesday.

Instead, the province will work with Indigenous groups to come up with a joint management approach to keep the numbers of the two Labrador herds from shrinking ever further.

"It was the unanimous viewpoint, particularly from Indigenous communities directly connected to the herds, not to list at this point in time, as an endangered species," said Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne.

Byrne told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning that the province may reconsider its decision, but only after further consultations.

Minister Gerry Byrne says the government hopes to find a co-management solution for two caribou herds in Labrador. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

The most recent census of the George River herd, conducted in July 2016, estimated the population at just 8,938 animals, down from an estimated 74,000 animals in 2010, and well below the estimate historic peak of 775,000 animals.

That's despite a provincial ban on hunting, imposed in 2013.

In October, a federal advisory group — the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada — recommended the animals be declared endangered.

A coalition of Indigenous groups from Labrador and Quebec countered with a proposal to harvest 90 George River caribou in 2018, and to continue monitoring population cycles.

We do know that there is currently unsanctioned hunting underway.- Gerry Byrne

But there has been infighting among members, with the Innu Nation announcing that it would leave the group, and the Nunatsiavut government saying the Innu are hunting more than their share. 

"We do know that there is currently unsanctioned hunting underway," Byrne said. 

"If there is to be a hunt for social and ceremonial purposes — which I am still open to consulting about — it must be within the original context which the Indigenous nations themselves concluded back in October 2015," said the minister. 

Byrne said the cooperation of Indigenous governments and organizations is essential if the herds are to recover, and the province is working closely with those groups to "determine the best path forward."

He remains hopeful they can come to a co-managed solution. 

With files from Labrador Morning