N.W.T. outfitter selling 2 camps because of caribou tag cutback

The owner of three tourism camps in the Northwest Territories is putting two camps up for sale, saying business has gone down this year.

The owner of three tourism camps in the Northwest Territories is putting two camps up for sale, saying business has gone down since the territorial government slashed the number of caribou that can be hunted.

Boyd Warner said not enough sport hunters are coming north to keep his White Wolf and Thonokied Lake camps going. He is keeping his Bathurst Inlet Lodge in western Nunavut open, but is selling the other two camps, located north of Yellowknife.

"It's certainly not a great time for any outfitter up there, and I think this is just a sign of what we had to do in order to survive," Warner told CBC News.

Warner said he doesn't have enough caribou hunting tags to attract hunters to his camps, since the territorial government cut the number of caribou tags available to outfitters like himself last year.

The fewer tags that outfitters receive, the fewer caribou the outfitters' visiting hunters can take.

Michael McLeod, then environment minister, cut the caribou tag allotment to outfitters in January 2007, citing government counts that showed caribou numbers were sharply declining.

Outfitters may get more tags, depending on the outcome of an independent review of the counts. But Warner said for now, he cannot wait.

"Not that I'm going broke tomorrow, but you can't afford to keep these camps [inactive] for very long," he said. "It's too costly to do that."

Ecotourism opportunities foreseen

Warner said he believes the camps he's selling would be ideal as ecotourism destinations — something the government is encouraging by making money available for tourism operators to diversify their offerings.

"There's not a lot of product, and we need more," said Robin Wotherspoon, chair of the Northwest Territories Tourism Association.

"You know, it's expensive to get here, it's expensive to get into the communities. But if you have something in that community, people will certainly pay to get there."

But Warner said he doesn't think hunting should be phased out as a tourism option, since hunters are still interested in coming north — and in spending money.

"Those hunters are all paying a minimum $500 to about $7,600 by the time you do all-inclusives, whereas eco-tourism will not pay that amount of money," he said.

"So I think we are missing the boat by not continuing to support the hunting."

Warner said ecotourism and hunting can be run from the same camps, as they are focused on different seasons.