N.W.T. government not acting fast enough on caribou crisis, says MLA

MLA Kevin O'Reilly is raising concerns that plans to help manage and maintain the dwindling Bathurst caribou herd are coming too late.

'There may not be a herd left,' says Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says the Department of Environment should have made moves to protect and manage the Bathurst caribou herd years ago. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

One MLA in the Northwest Territories is raising concerns that plans to help manage and maintain the dwindling Bathurst caribou herd are coming too late.

"By the time we actually get a joint management proposal together submitted to the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board … there may not be a herd left," said Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly during a briefing on caribou range plans Friday morning.

Last month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) reported the Bathurst herd shrunk by close to 60 per cent in just three years.

It held Friday's briefing to give MLAs an update on ENR's draft range plan for the Bathurst herd. The goal of the plan is to help support conservation recovery of the herd.

Deputy Minister Joe Dragon, centre, during Friday's technical briefing on caribou range plans. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

The department is proposing a number of measures to manage the caribou.

The measures include conserving calving grounds, supporting Indigenous community guardianship programs, and possibly shutting down "project activities" when caribou are close by.

"These recommendations address various impacts of human effects on caribou and their habitat while trying to be flexible and adaptable for industry," said Joe Dragon, deputy minister of environment.

'This is a crisis situation'

O'Reilly says this should have been done years ago.

"This is a crisis situation and our government needs to be taking action," he said. "We can't wait any longer."

The latest population numbers from ENR say the Bathurst herd dropped from 20,000 in 2015 to just 8,200 this year.

"The numbers really say we've got to take this seriously," said Sahtu MLA Daniel McNeely, echoing O'Reilly's concerns.

A lone Bathurst caribou is seen here in this file photo. The herd has shrunk by nearly 60 per cent since 2015. (CBC)

O'Reilly says the government should be looking at controlling predator populations like wolves.

Brett Elkin, director of wildlife for the department, said it would like to implement the management plans as soon as possible, but they have to work with Indigenous governments as well, which can take time.

"We would like [changes] in place before the next harvest season, before next fall."

For that to happen, Elkin says joint management proposals will have to be submitted by early January.