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New draft Nunavut land use plan protects core caribou habitat

Hunters and trappers organizations and environmental groups are pleased with the protection of caribou habitat in the final draft of the Nunavut land use plan released today, but concerned about a lack of protection for key areas used by polar bears.

'We've been fighting for this for many years,' says Barnie Aggark of Chesterfield Inlet

'I’m really happy about that, we’ve been fighting for this for many years,' says Barine Aggark the mayor of Chesterfield Inlet and chair of the local hunters and trappers organization. (GNWT)

Hunters and trappers organizations and environmental groups are pleased with the protection of caribou habitat in the final draft of the Nunavut Land Use Plan released Friday, but concerned about a lack of protection for key areas used by polar bears.

Hunters and trappers groups across Nunavut have been campaigning for caribou protection for years in the face of increasing demands from mining companies interested in exploration and mining. 

"I'm really happy about that, we've been fighting for this for many years," said Barnie Aggark the mayor of Chesterfield Inlet and chair of the local hunters and trappers organization.

"We'd like to see them protected as much as we could."

'Once the land is disturbed it’s going to be a lot harder for them to go back on their regular routes,' said Aggark. (N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources)
Communities who rely on some of the last great migratory caribou herds in North America were concerned in March when the government of Nunavut unexpectedly reversed its position on caribou protection, suggesting decisions on development in the calving grounds could be made on a case-by-case basis. 

"Core-calving areas are of critical importance for maintaining healthy caribou populations," the planning commission's final draft document reads. "They are also the place where caribou are most vulnerable to disturbance. The impacts of exploration and development cannot be effectively mitigated in core-calving areas."

Aggark agrees. 

"Once the land is disturbed it's going to be a lot harder for them to go back on their regular routes," he said. 

Less protection for polar bears

Paul Crowley, director of WWF-Canada's Arctic program, was also pleased with the draft plan's stance on caribou. 

"We really applaud what the NPC has done," he said. 

WWF-Canada says the land use plan raises some concerns when it comes to polar bear denning areas. (Elisabeth Kruger/WWF-US)
However, Crowley said the document does raise some concerns when it comes to polar bear denning areas.

"These are no longer covered by special management areas," Crowley said. 

"They're in mixed use areas, so that's a concern to us and we know it's a concern to other groups such as the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board."

More consultations coming

When the plan is finalized, it will become Nunavut's first territory-wide land use plan.

The document is intended to dictate the use of the various land and marine areas in the territory, balancing environmental, social and economic needs.

The Nunavut Planning Commission held numerous technical meetings to consult with stakeholders in advance of releasing this draft. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
It has to take into consideration wildlife habitat protection, traditional ice travel routes and areas that could be developed for industry and tourism.

"It's a living document," said Sharon Ehaloak, the Nunavut Planning Commission's executive director. 

"If it's stimulating conversation, we're very pleased to hear that because it's very important that we hear from Nunavummiut, and it's very important we hear from government, industry, all our planning partners, NTI, the designated Inuit organizations, the HTOs, the communities, everyone."

The commission is still planning regional consultations with planning partners with hopes of holding a public hearing in March, subject to funding.

In 2014, the public hearings were cancelled because the commission said it hadn't received enough money from the federal government.

The plan will ultimately have to be approved by the federal government, territorial government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

With files from John Van Dusen

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