'Significant gaps' in knowledge of caribou and fish in N.W.T.: audit

The audit looks at how well the territory is evaluating the trends of its environment, in particular the trends of specific caribou herds, fish species and bodies of water.

Effects of climate change, development and predators on caribou populations one of the missing pieces

The audit acknowledges there have been many studies done on caribou in the N.W.T., but says more research needs to be done to figure out why herd numbers are dropping so dramatically.

A new audit on the environment in the N.W.T. says there is 'significant' research missing on the caribou and fish populations in the territory.

The 2015 Northwest Territories Environmental Audit was tabled in the legislative assembly today.

The audit, which was conducted by Ontario-based consulting company Arcadis Canada Inc., looks at how well the territory is evaluating the trends of its environment — most importantly, the trends of specific caribou herds, fish species and bodies of water.

The audit says the territory's Mackenzie Valley regulatory system has been "generally effective" and has "continued to improve" since it was last reviewed in 2010.

But it also says there is still a lot of work to be done because there are  "significant information gaps" that need to be closed.

'Major questions remain'

The audit includes 24 recommendations, which come from a combination of information from 112 individuals and organizations from the government, the public and Aboriginal groups.

Though the audit says most of the studies on major barren-ground caribou herds are "comprehensive" and include useful, long-term trends, it says some things are missing.

"Major questions remain," the audit says. 

"The role of external factors such as climate change, changes in habitat quality, the impact of development, and the significance of predators and hunting is still unclear."

In its response within the audit, the territorial government says it plans to better identify exactly how it can collect more information on caribou.

Some fish info 8 years old

Along with caribou, the GNWT asked the auditor to focus on two other major components of the N.W.T.: fish and water.

Overall, the audit says the territory is doing a good job studying the water in the territory. It specifically says the Water Monitoring Inventory, a table that keeps track of every water-monitoring program in the territory — including the state of the programs and if they use traditional knowledge — is an "excellent" source of information.

But the audit says the studies on fish in the territory still need work.

"Monitoring of fish and fish habitat in the N.W.T. has been carried out for several decades," the audit says.

"However, these have often been discrete projects not focused on long-term trends, or where trend assessments have been completed, the work pre-dates the 2010-2015 focus for the audit."

More recent information needs to be collected for the walleye (pictured above), according to the audit. Its last recorded study was nine years ago and was limited to commercial fishing sites. (CBC)

The audit calls for more information on every one of the six species included in the report. The species were chosen based on population numbers and the commercial importance of the fish.

Half of the species included in the study lack recent data. And while data on the Dolly Varden — an endangered species — the walleye and the Buffalo River inconnu has been collected since the 1970s and 1940s respectively, the most up-to-date studies on some of these species are at least eight years old.

The audit calls for the territorial government to work closely with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to figure out exactly how the territory can collect more information on these fish.

This is the first time the territorial government has been responsible for the Northwest Territories Environmental Audit. The two previous reports of its kind, which were done in 2005 and 2010, were the responsibility of the federal government before devolution.

The audit also says this the first time it's included write-ups from the territorial government; formal answers that respond directly to each specific recommendation.

"This increases the accountability and transparency," the audit says. "It allows the public to monitor adherence of respondents to their commitments."