North

Hearings begin in Behchoko, N.W.T., on Bluenose East caribou plan

A proposed joint management plan for the declining Bluenose East caribou herd is calling for a reduction in harvesting for N.W.T. indigenous hunters.

'Our wildlife is in crisis. We need to have this discussion,' says former Tlicho grand chief

Members of the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resource Board listen to presentations during the first day of hearings in Behchoko, N.W.T., on a proposed management plan for the Bluenose East caribou herd. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A proposed joint management plan for the declining Bluenose East caribou herd is calling for a reduction in harvesting for N.W.T. indigenous hunters.

The Tlicho and N.W.T. governments presented their plan to the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resource Board during the first day of hearings in Behchoko, N.W.T. on Wednesday.

During the presentations, former Tlicho Grand Chief Joe Rabesca acknowledged that some people will not agree and some people will be upset, but the measures are necessary for the survival of the herd.

"Our wildlife is in crisis. We need to have this discussion," he said in Tlicho.

2015 calving photo surveys show the herd has dropped to less than 40,000 animals from 100,000 in 2010.

John Nishi, biologist for the Tlicho Government, told the board breeding females in the herd had declined by about half between 2013 and 2015. He said there are an estimated 17,400 breeding females according to the last calving ground survey.

"If we project that rate into the future, by three years a 34 per cent reduction annually would result in 6,200 breeding females.

"That's unacceptable and management actions must be implemented."

Wolf harvesting program

The two key points of the management plan are reductions in hunting of the herd and in the number of predators such as wolves.

It calls for a proposed total allowable harvest of 950 bulls (preferably young) annually. Indigenous groups in the N.W.T. would be allotted 611 (Tlicho 373, Sahtu 163, Dehcho 15, Inuvialuit 8, NWT Metis Nation 14, Akaitcho, 20, North Slave Metis Alliance 17) and 339 caribou for Nunavut.

The Tlicho Government has proposed a community-based wolf harvesting program on the declining Bathurst herd's winter range this year. If that program is successful, both groups agree it could be extended to the Bluenose East herd in 2016-2017.

The N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources presented a similar management plan for the Bluenose East herd to the Sahtu Renewable Resource Board during hearings last month in Deline. The Sahtu board is also weighing a plan proposed by the community of Deline.

The hearings in Behchoko continue until Friday. 

now