N.W.T., Nunavut plan more rigorous caribou management

N.W.T. and Nunavut officials and hunters met in Kugluktuk over management of shared herds. Nunavut will consider lowering its own harvest thresholds of the Bluenose-East over rapid herd decline, says Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq.

Nunavut will 'bite the bullet now' to protect caribou for future

Ministers of environment for the N.W.T. and Nunavut met in Kugluktuk recently to discuss caribou management. (CBC)

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and N.W.T. Environment Minister Robert C. McLeod met with officials and hunters in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, earlier this month to work out an agreement on caribou management between the two territories.

They directed their governments to strengthen caribou herd management in a planned agreement for the declining Bluenose-East and Bathurst caribou herds. The existing agreement between Nunavut and the N.W.T. says little about herd management. The new agreement, yet to be signed, will include herd management.

Earlier this month, the Tlicho Government and N.W.T. Environment Department proposed lowering harvest in the Wek'eezhii region from 750 animals to 300. Nunavut could undertake similar actions, said Savikataaq, who also serves as Nunavut's Environment Minister. 

Harvesters in both territories are not now exceeding the total allowable harvest, but Nunavut could lower its total allowable harvest from 340 animals after consultation with its co-management partners, Savikataaq said. 

"Something else is in play. It's not that hunters are shooting any more caribou. The hunters are trying to do their part by limiting their harvest, but survey after survey, the numbers are still going down drastically," he said.

Nunavut Premier and Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq says after meetings in Kugluktuk, the N.W.T. and Nunavut are looking to sign a new memorandum of understanding for the management of declining caribou herds. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Still, officials and hunters at the meeting agreed to limiting the harvest and increasing wolf management, he said.

'Bite the bullet'

"We have to bite the bullet now … so that we have caribou either forever or for many, many years to come," said Savikataaq.

The N.W.T. plan presented in Behchoko this month includes wolf management. It also suggests protecting the calving grounds of the Bluenose-East herd,near Kugluktuk.

"We've had some pressure from the HTOs [Hunter and Trapper Organizations] to protect the calving grounds," said Savikataaq.

Before that can happen, Nunavut must complete its land-use plan, slated for completion in 2022. Calving grounds shift from year-to-year, complicating decisions about which areas should be protected, he said.

"If there is a dire need for calving ground protection, that is possible. It's just a case-by-case piece," he said.

Nunavut and N.W.T. "want to work more closely together for the sake of caribou," said Savikataaq. 

"It's something we can look at because caribou is a really important species for both sides of the border there. It's an iconic species that the Inuit and Dene have traditionally always used as a food source," said Savikataaq.

Productive meeting

N.W.T. Environment Minister Robert C. McLeod said a meeting in Kugluktuk to discuss caribou management was positive. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

McLeod said the Kugluktuk meeting yielded some of the most positive and productive results his time as N.W.T. environment minister.

"We've had some concerns from some of the leadership in the N.W.T. side that the [Bluenose-East] caribou are all calving in the Nunavut side. The most important thing we got out of this [meeting] is the fact that they recognize the numbers are declining and they have to do their part," he said.

McLeod said in the N.W.T., the Tlicho have shown "leadership" on management, including agreeing to zero harvest on the Bathurst herd.