Tlicho, N.W.T. gov'ts propose stricter limits for Bluenose East harvest

A joint management proposal from the Tlicho and N.W.T. governments suggests cutting the harvest limit from 750 to 300 animals.

If approved, the plan will slash the number of available tags by more than half — from 750 to 300

The Bluenose East herd ranges from the N.W.T.'s Great Bear Lake to the west of Kugluktuk, Nunavut. If approved, the plan will slash the number of available tags from 750 to 300. (CBC)

The Bluenose East caribou harvest could be cut by more than half, if a plan to be discussed at a public hearing in Behchoko, N.W.T., Tuesday is approved.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board is considering a proposed management plan proposed by the Tlicho and territorial governments.

If approved, the board will slash the number of available tags from 750 to 300.

The Bluenose East herd ranges from the N.W.T.'s Great Bear Lake to the west of Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

According to the territorial government's latest count, the herd shrank by 84 per cent in eight years, declining from 100,000 animals in 2010 to 19,000 as of 2018.

The management plan would increase wolf-harvest incentives, promote the protection of Nunavut calving grounds, and restrict hunting to bulls.

Reduce harvest to match reduced herd

Three years ago, the board approved a harvest limit of 750, less than the 950 caribou limit proposed by the territorial and Tlicho governments, said Jan Adamczewski, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Given that the herd had dropped by [approximately] half ... in three years, we thought we should at least reduce the harvest by that much," he said. 

Harvest levels were "substantially" lower than the harvest limit set in 2016, said Adamczewski. Harvesters in the Wek'eezhii region took 373 animals in 2016 and 323 in 2017.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board has no authority over harvesting in Nunavut or in the Sahtu. The Sahtu Renewable Resources Board recommends harvest levels and have their own plan for managing Caribou. The Wek'eezhii board sets harvesting limits, and uses a tag system.

The Deline Got'ine Government and North Slave Métis Alliance will present as interveners on Wednesday.

Deline is the primary community harvesting from the herd. In 2016, they rejected a harvest limit tag system in favour of self-regulation.

"We would like to work with the Deline Renewable Resources Council given the new survey information ... and hopefully they will work with their plan and also reduce the harvest limit for Deline," said Adamczewski.

Kugluktuk accounted for more than 50 per cent of the herd's reported harvest in 2017. 

"Our hope is they will look at how the herd is doing and reduce the harvest limits on the Kugluktuk plan on the Nunavut side."

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is expected to make written submissions alongside the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, which advocates for protection of caribou and their habitat.

The government's 2019 management plan proposes the same tagging proportions as 2015:

  • Tlicho 39 per cent.
  • Sahtu 17 per cent.
  • Dehcho 1.6 per cent.
  • Inuvialuit 0.8 per cent.
  • NWT Métis Nation 1.5 per cent.
  • Akaitcho 2.1 per cent.
  • North Slave Métis Alliance 1.8 per cent.
  • Kugluktuk 35 per cent.

Increased pressures after Bathurst hunt closes

In 2015, the Tlicho government said its members would not hunt from the declining Bathurst caribou herd. As a result of a harvesting ban on the Bathurst, there has been an uptick in Tlicho harvesters using the Bluenose East herd, states a government fact sheet.

Caribou herds are prone to sharp decline and government scientists say an array of factors are responsible.

The latest proposal says a relatively small Indigenous harvest between 2015 and 2018 contributed "proportionately little" to the herd's decline.

With a limited harvest in the following years, research suggests predation, disturbance from mining camps or roads, a 2014 drought and climate may have influenced the herd's decline, the proposal states.

However, annual harvest levels of more than 3,000 between 2010 and 2015 "likely" contributed to decline in those respective years.

In 2017, Deline took seven bulls, 142 bulls were taken in the Wek'eezhii region,  and Kugluktuk took 174 caribou for a total of 323 caribou.

The Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board will consider public comments until April 26.

The board plans to release a final report by June 14, ahead of the harvest season.