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More than 80 caribou illegally killed in last 2 weeks, N.W.T. Indigenous leaders say

Indigenous leaders and government officials in the N.W.T. issued a joint statement Friday morning condemning illegal hunting after a two-week period when they say 80 caribou were illegally hunted from the threatened Bathurst herd.

Animals were hunted from rapidly declining Bathurst caribou herd

Officers with the territory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources discovered wasted meat from 12 caribou in a zone where hunting the animal is prohibited. (Environment and Natural Resources)

Indigenous leaders and government officials in the N.W.T. issued a joint statement Friday morning condemning illegal hunting after a two-week period when they say more than 80 caribou were illegally hunted from the threatened Bathurst herd.

"That could feed a whole community. That would carry them into the summer. Just talking about it makes me angry," said Łutsel Kʼe Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe.

The statement also says officials from the territory's department of Environment and Natural Resources found wasted meat from 12 additional caribou.

A joint statement from Marlowe, Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie, and other unspecified "Indigenous regional leaders" says it is "disappointing to see animals being wasted in this way."

"This behaviour is not only disrespectful — it is illegal," it reads.

The Bathurst herd is one of nine barren-ground caribou herds, with its calving grounds near the Bathurst Inlet in Nunavut. Its range extends across the eastern N.W.T. and includes traditional hunting areas for the Tłı̨chǫ, Akaitcho, and Sahtu Dene.

Since 2018, barren-ground caribou have been considered a "threatened species" by the territorial government. The Bathurst herd has experienced a rapid decline in size since 1986, and only 8,200 caribou remain. The herd is believed to have shrunk by as much as 98 per cent.

Hunting Bathurst caribou has been prohibited in the N.W.T. since 2015. As their range intersects with several other herds, to limit harvest, the territory updates a "mobile core Bathurst caribou management zone" where hunting any caribou is prohibited.

Individuals found to be hunting caribou in the zone have any meat seized and can face charges under the territory's Wildlife Act.

According to the release, officers with Environment and Natural Resources issued tickets to an unspecified number of hunters in the zone over the weekend, shortly after the N.W.T. shut its borders and introduced mandatory travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prior to those measures, Indigenous leaders encouraged hunters to go out on the land to minimize their contact with others.

"Prior to March 21, there had only been one case of harvesting in the mobile zone this winter," the release reads.

Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe said his community is '100 per cent behind ending public access' on the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, which runs through the herd's range. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Ice road to blame: chief

In an interview with CBC, Marlowe said public access to an ice road used by mines in the territory's northeast is partly to blame for increased hunting of the herd.

Marlowe's community imposed its own two-year moratorium on caribou hunting last month in response. He said his community is now "100 per cent behind ending public access" to the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, which runs through the herd's range.

"From the day the ice road opened we've been trying to limit access to the public," he said. "We have no room for over-killing. People are getting trigger happy as soon as they see the herd."

"To me, that's so disrespectful to the caribou and the animal," he said.

Hunters 'gathering and visiting in groups'

The release also voices "concern" from Indigenous leaders that hunters are disregarding advice from the territory's chief public health officer on physical distancing.

"Over the weekend, hunters along the winter road were observed travelling and gathering and visiting in groups," the release reads. "This behaviour goes against the advice of the Chief Public Health Officer, who supports people going out on the land, but only with their immediate family or people they live with."

"We understand this is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone," reads a quote attributed to Shane Thompson, the territory's minister of environment and natural resources. "It is up to all of us to ensure we are making good decisions to protect the health and safety of our communities and the future of our caribou.

"There are other animals that can be legally harvested at this time, including moose, muskox, fish, small game and other caribou herds. We encourage people to look at other options, and to harvest other animals respectfully and sustainably."

With files from Avery Zingel

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