Too little too late: Quebec measures to protect Leaf River caribou draw criticism

The Quebec government has announced it will allow sport hunting of the Leaf River caribou herd for one more season, but is cutting the total number of hunting permits in half. Indigenous groups who rely on the herd continue to call for an immediate end to the hunt.
In five years, the Leaf River herd's population has dropped by half. The latest estimate pegs the herd at 199,000 caribou, down from around 430,000 in 2011. (submitted by Luc Gervais and Sylvain Paquin)

The Quebec government has announced it will allow sport hunting of the Leaf River caribou herd for one more season, but is cutting the total number of hunting permits in half.

This winter, sport hunters are allowed to harvest up to 2,732 animals in Inuit and Cree territory — but for 2017-18, only 1366 permits will be made available.

The announcement comes as the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi are calling for the immediate closure of sport hunting in the James Bay area.

In five years, the Leaf River herd's population has dropped by half. The latest estimate pegs the herd at 199,000 caribou, down from around 430,000 in 2011.

The Quebec government is calling the situation "worrying," and, in a press release, says it will ban sport hunting for an "undetermined period" starting February 1, 2018.

The government is setting up an "inter-ministerial committee… to assess the main social and economic consequences of the declining migratory caribou population in Northern Quebec, and propose mitigation measures," according to the release. 

"The committee will consult the partners likely to be affected by future decision through task forces."

'They have not been listening'

Nunavik's Makivik Corporation's executive vice-president says the herd needs more immediate action.

'We will not be able to preserve our cultural harvest and our food security,' says Nunavik Makivik Corporation’s executive vice-president Adamie Delisle Alaku. (Supplied by Makivik Corp.)

"In order for the herd to be sustainable and for it to be able to not decline, we have vocalized with the ministry that the sport hunt has to closed now," said Adamie Delisle Alaku.

"With the sports hunting and the native harvest, we are already harvesting unsustainably. And that's what we've been advocating to the ministry… and they have not been listening"

Alaku wants the government to restrict hunting "to the Native hunt alone," in order to "preserve our cultural harvest and our food security."

"The outfitters have profited considerably by exploiting the Leaf River herd for years, but when the herd is gone they will move on to other ventures while the Inuit, Cree and Naskapi will be left out without caribou," said Alaku.

Innu Nation renews its support 

Leaders of the Innu Nation are saying the Quebec government's measures fall short of what's needed.

According to a press release, the Innu Nation is planning to "hold a high-level meeting with the Innu leaders to discuss the herd's situation and the means to ensure the sustainability of this resource."

"It should be noted that the management shortcomings by the Quebec and Labrador administration concerning the rapid closure of sport hunting a few years ago for the George River herd had significant and drastic consequences for Atik (caribou) and the Innu," read the statement.

The George River caribou population was estimated to be around 8,900 last year — a number the Newfoundland and Labrador government has called  "critically low"

"The Innu Nation in Quebec is available and offers its full collaboration to the Crees, Inuit and Naskapis in order to support them in their actions to ban sport hunting in the James Bay region."

with files from John Van Dusen