Communities 'supporting each other' to conserve Bluenose East herd

A proposed management plan for the declining Bluenose East caribou herd calls for stricter hunting limits, predator control.

Wekweeti, N.W.T., chief worried harvesting limits could cause food insecurity

Leonard Kenny and Walter Bezha are representing Deline Got'ine Government as interveners in the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board Bluenose East hearings this week in Behchoko. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Walter Bezha says his grandfather's words still ring true, as the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board's hearings into a plan for the Bluenose East caribou herd continue in Behchoko, N.W.T., this week.

"If the land doesn't provide it, don't harvest it," he says. 

The herd's population continues to decline, falling from 39,000 animals in 2015 to 19,3000 in 2018, according to the latest numbers from the Northwest Territories Department of  Environment and Natural Resources.

In light of those numbers, the Tlicho and Northwest Territories governments are proposing more harvest restrictions and wolf management.

Deline implemented its own management plan several years ago. The community does not use a tag system and is not harvesting from the herd. The Deline Got'ine Government is listed as an intervener in the hearings. 

While caribou are not plentiful, Deline will help its people harvest other wildlife including muskox, migratory birds and fish, said Bezha, who is the manager of lands and resources with the Deline Land Corporation.

"I grew up in a time when there was hardly any caribou and we had a lot of fish and other ungulates like moose," he said.

Management in other regions is not only welcome, it's common sense, he said.

"When you have other people doing something the same way you are, you're happy. The biggest thing is we're going to be supporting each other," he said.

Attendees listen in during meetings on caribou management in Behchoko, N.W.T. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

The Tlicho delegation says that without proper management, the herd risks falling to just 5,000 animals by 2024.

Management is complex, but necessary, said John B. Zoe, a senior advisor with the Tlicho government.

We don't know what the future will hold at this time because what was natural laws before, it kind of has to be mitigated by human nature.- John B. Zoe, senior advisor, Tlicho government.

"[It's] probably the first time in history that we're challenged with this thing in front of us. It makes the North and even the world, especially Aboriginal people that depend on the caribou, very anxious," said Zoe.

"We don't know what the future will hold at this time because what was natural laws before, it kind of has to be mitigated by human nature," he said.

John B. Zoe speaks during a caribou management meeting in Behchoko, N.W.T., he says Indigenous people depend on the caribou. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

New proposed harvest restrictions have to be approved by the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board.

The proposal would reduce the total allowable harvest from 750 animals to 300 per year.

In 2017, Deline harvested seven caribou, Kugluktuk harvested 174 and the North Slave Region took 142 bulls.

Caribou decline is a serious concern for Tlicho who rely on caribou for sustenance and culture, said Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels.

Wekweeti Chief Charlie Football says he fears new harvesting limits without food subsidies will cause food insecurity in his community.

"What will be put in place when we're restricted from our caribou … what food are you going to help us with so that we maintain our health?" he said in Tlicho.

New plan will promote predator management

Early analysis of the Bluenose East herd collared data suggests the herd is predominantly dying in the summer range, said ENR wildlife biologist Jan Adamczewski.

Similar results appear in the Bathurst herd and wolves are a likely culprit, he said.

"We don't know exactly what they've died of but it's probably a reasonable suggestion that predators would be responsible for a lot of those mortalities," he said.

Jan Adamczewski, left, a wildlife biologist with the N.W.T.'s Environment and Natural Resources Department speaks during a caribou meeting in Behchoko. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

The proposed plan would look to wolf management to reduce pressures on the herd.

The Tlicho-led Ekwo Naxoede K'e (Boots on the Ground) program identified climate change and mining infrastructure as additional pressures on the herd. Infrastructure on migratory paths forces caribou into narrow routes and exposes them to predators, said Petter Jacobsen, the Tlicho Government's traditional knowledge researcher.

Preserve the caribou for the youth

Lucy Lafferty shows the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board a photo of a young student working on a hide. Lafferty works with the Tlicho Community Services Agency and says that protecting caribou will uphold Dene culture and values for young people. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

One community services worker, Lucy Lafferty, said Dene culture and values can live on in caribou and cultural activities, like a first hunt or young people learning to work with hide.

"We have lots of stories about caribou. I don't know how much of it we're going to be able to still carry it so that the children will believe the things that we're saying if it's not being seen in the community."

"I don't know when was the last time I have seen a young man who has gone on the first hunt … and the celebration we used to have."

The Wek'eezhii board will hear from Deline, Yellowknives Dene and the North Slave Métis Alliance on Thursday. The board is planning to make its final decision on a proposed plan by June 14.


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