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Baffin wildlife board makes case for increasing caribou harvest

The Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board wants to see the Baffin region caribou harvest increased over the next ten years, in part to allow time for lichen to return, which will feed more caribou.

Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board suggests increasing the total allowable harvest by 100 next season

A lone caribou pictured in a file photo. The Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board wants to see the Baffin region caribou harvest increased over the next ten years, in part to allow time for lichen to return, which will feed more caribou. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Baffin region's wildlife board wants to see a significant increase to the number of caribou they can hunt.

This past year, the Baffin island caribou harvest was capped at 250. The Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board suggests increasing that number by 100 in the upcoming season, which opens July 1. Then, in the following season, they suggest increasing the quota by 75, and then by 50 in each of the years after that until the 2031-2032 season. 

The board brought the proposed increase forward on Thursday at the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) meeting in Iqaluit.

The Qikiqtaaluk board argues that, based on Inuit knowledge and observations of caribou in many areas, "the long-term cycle has now entered a new critical phase" meaning a "major change" is needed to the current harvest management strategy being used by the territory.

It said Baffin Inuit have known about — and managed — the long-term population of caribou cycles that take place over the lifetime of an elder, or about 70 to 90 years.

Part of that cycle, the board continued, involves the lichen that caribou eat, which it said is depleted and needs time to replenish itself. 

Caribou can increase faster than depleted lichen can grow, the board said, so a higher harvest would allow the lichen to grow enough to support a larger herd population in the future.

"Children are taught by elders that if there are many caribou in their young years, there will be very few caribou when they have children of their own to feed. But, if they live to become elders, there will be many caribou again," the QWB submission reads.

The proposed increases in total allowable harvest of Baffin caribou from the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board, which was presented to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board on Thursday. (Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board)

The current 2021-2022 Baffin caribou hunting season was closed on May 17 by the territory because the max quota of 250 caribou had been reached.

The QWB is pushing for a 10-year commitment to the quota increase, which the board said would respect Inuit wildlife management know-how.

Territory suggests cautionary approach

The Nunavut government told the NWMB Thursday that it would like to see a more cautionary approach to increasing the harvest of this caribou population, which was estimated to be about 4,600 in 2014.

The territory suggests an increase by 50 a year, due to the encouraging signs of population growth and health. However, the increase would be reconsidered on an annual basis, based on new Inuit knowledge and scientific information.

While NWMB chair Dan Shewchuk called the apparent increase in caribou population "good news," the management board has yet to decide whether it will allow the increase. It's not clear when the decision will be made. 

The QWB plans to conduct a survey using observation of caribou tracks and pellets to learn more about the distribution and numbers of caribou.

Caribou in western Nunavut face endangered status

Meanwhile, hunters in western communities of Nunavut, like Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, are in favour of adding a layer of protection to the caribou in their region. They say they'd support seeing the Dolphin and Union caribou herd's status change from "special concern" to "endangered" under the federal species at risk legislation.

That move was discussed Wednesday at the NWMB meeting in Iqaluit, which would make its recommendation on the proposed status change to the federal environment minister.

The Dolphin and Union herd's population numbered 34,558 in 1997, but estimates in 2018 showed about 4,000 animals. 

There's currently a no-hunting zone around Kugluktuk so that mothers and calves from the Bluenose East herd can pass by the community, said Kevin Klengenberg of the community's hunting and trapping association. Both hunters and trappers associations have stopped sports hunts of the Dolphin and Union herd, and share a total allowable harvest of 105 animals from that herd. 

In 2017, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada conducted an assessment of the Dolphin and Union caribou. It said the herd's population is experiencing multiple threats, including loss of sea ice, predation from wolves and grizzly bears and the spread of insect pests and pathogens.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a no-hunting zone around Kugluktuk relating to the Dolphin and Union caribou herd. In fact, the no-hunting zone only applies to the Bluenose East herd.
    Jun 17, 2022 1:46 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane George is now a reporter-editor at CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her stories.

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