North

Nunavut's Bathurst caribou harvest 'problematic,' says N.W.T. minister

The Northwest Territories government says that it's working to address declining caribou populations across the North, but one major challenge that remains is getting the Nunavut government on board.

N.W.T. has placed a full ban on the declining Bathurst caribou herd, Nunavut has no restrictions

The results of surveys in the Northwest Territories this summer indicate caribou populations are continuing to decline. (GNWT)

The Northwest Territories government says it's working to address the declining caribou populations across the North, but one major challenge that remains is getting the Nunavut government on board.

Surveys done in June and July show that the Bathurst caribou population has dropped by about one third — from 32,000 animals in 2012 to between 16,000 and 22,000 this year.

The number of breeding cows, "a crucial indicator of herd health," has dropped by 50 per cent, according to a press release from the N.W.T. government. 

Michael Miltenberger, the N.W.T.'s minister of Environment and Natural Resources, says that climate change, hunting, predation, and industry aren't helping the caribou population, but also pointed out that the territory isn't seeing eye to eye with the Government of Nunavut.
Michael Miltenberger, the Northwest Territories' minister of Environment and Natural Resources, says that allowing a commercial harvest on Bathurst caribou in Nunavut is 'very problematic for us.' (CBC)

In the N.W.T., a total harvest ban has been placed on the Bathurst herd, save for a 15-animal harvest set aside for First Nations' ceremonial use. However, Miltenberger says Nunavut has "taken a somewhat different approach.

"They still allow a commercial harvest on the Bathurst, which is very problematic for us," said Miltenberger. "For the aboriginal governments, everybody in the Northwest Territories."

In addition to the Bathurst, Miltenberger says that the two territories are in discussions about the Bluenose East caribou herd, which has seen its number of breeding cows drop by 50 per cent since 2013.

"We're currently in discussions with them about what's an acceptable number of animals to hunt from the Bluenose East," he said. "Their numbers are a lot higher than we think are sustainable."
The Bluenose-East and Bathurst caribou herds travel the barrenlands of the N.W.T. and western Nunavut. Bans and quotas are in place for the herds on the N.W.T. side of the border, but not in Nunavut. The Bathurst herd's area is represented in Yellow and the Bluenose East is in blue. (GNWT-ENR)

Harvesters of the Bluenose-East herd are limited to 1,800 animals in the Northwest Territories, which are divided among aboriginal groups. Non-aboriginal hunters are not allowed to hunt either the Bathurst or Bluenose East herds.

There is currently no ban or quota in place for either herd in Nunavut. Hunters told Nunatsiaq News in 2014 that they would prefer to see predation control programs instead of restrictions on hunting.

North Slave Métis: commercial harvest 'unacceptable'

Bill Enge, the president of the North Slave Métis Alliance, says that commercial harvesting of the Bathurst herd is "unacceptable."

The North Slave Métis won the right to harvest Bathurst caribou earlier this year, filing a lawsuit against the territorial government that was later dropped once they were promised tags for the herd once the ban is lifted.
Bill Enge, the president of the North Slave Métis Alliance, says that his group's efforts to respect a ban on the Bathurst caribou harvest 'are all for naught if the Nunavut government isn't respecting it.' (CBC)

"Our government sees fit to impose harvesting restrictions on aboriginal groups to save the herd," said Enge. "But our efforts are all for naught if the Nunavut government isn't respecting it."

Miltenberger says the territorial government is in consultation with the Nunavut government, as well as local aboriginal governments, on taking steps to protect the barren-ground caribou that migrate between the two territories. 

The Nunavut government did not immediately respond to CBC's request for an interview.

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