N.W.T. wolf cull 'inhumane and unnecessary,' says Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation

The Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation says a proposed wolf cull put forward by the Northwest Territories and Tłı̨chǫ governments to protect two declining caribou herds is "both inhumane and unnecessary."

First Nation one of many voices skeptical of proposed plan

A photo of a fluffy white Arctic wolf on a snowy landscape.
A proposed plan calls for killing 60 to 80 per cent of wolves that prey on the Bathurst and Bluenose East caribou herds every year for the next four years. (Dean Cluff/Government of the Northwest Territories)

The Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) says a proposed wolf cull put forward by the Northwest Territories and Tłı̨chǫ governments to protect two declining caribou herds is "both inhumane and unnecessary."

The First Nation is one of several voices in the territory to question a four-year plan that builds on a pilot-project this spring involving satellite collars and shooting from aircraft to drastically cut wolf populations who prey on the Bluenose East and Bathurst caribou herds by up to 80 per cent.

A letter dated Nov. 5 submitted to the Wek'éezhìi Renewable Resources Board (WRRB), which is currently reviewing the updated plan, spells out the First Nation's concerns.

"Based on our Dene values, traditional knowledge, and our review of the science, we believe it to be both inhumane and unnecessary. We believe that the proposal distracts and draws resources from actions that could benefit caribou," read the letter signed by Beth Keats on behalf of Glen Guthrie, the manager of the LKDFN's Wildlife, Lands, and Environment Department.

"We object to the practice by which the cull would be executed. Wolves hold a sacred place for many people of our community. They are respected co-dependents of caribou, and while some of our people harvest wolves, no one attacks them."

The territory’s Environment department estimates the Bluenose-East herd to be around 19,000 animals, and the Bathurst herd around 8,200. (N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

The letter also takes issue with a proposed $1.1 billion all-season road project the territory is moving ahead on that would likely travel through the Bathurst caribou herd range.

"It is unacceptable to the LKDFN that this proposed wolf cull program would proceed with such a high degree of uncertainty regarding its effectiveness to increase caribou survival rates, while at the same time the [government of the Northwest Territories] is contemplating development activities that will likely produce significant negative impacts on the Bathurst herd," the letter reads.

In a final submission dated Oct. 30 to the WRRB, the N.W.T. and Tłı̨chǫ governments say they will use an adaptive management approach and continue to rely on the best available scientific, local and traditional knowledge in their decisions about wolf management.

But a group that represents Métis in the territory questioned whether the relatively short project timeline will allow for "proper adaptive management."

"We request more information on how wolf populations are being estimated and how wolf removal targets are being set each year," read an Oct. 28 letter submitted to the board by the North Slave Métis Alliance.

The purple and green in this graphic show the winter ranges of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds from December 2019 to March 2020. (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

The letter said that current wolf population estimates in the Bathurst and Bluenose-East region are not available and predation rates on the caribou are likely overestimated.

"While wolf control programs in other northern jurisdictions such as Alaska and Nunavut have shown that predator control can have short-term benefits in the recovery of caribou populations, their long-term effects on both caribou populations and the overall ecosystem is unclear," the letter read.

It said the removal of wolves must be done as fairly and humanely as possible, and communication must be maintained to ensure wolves are not over-harvested.

According to 2018 population estimates by the territory's environment department, the Bluenose-East herd has declined from about 120,000 animals in 2010 to about 19,000, and the Bathurst herd dropped from an estimated 186,000 caribou in 2013 to 8,200.

The WRRB is expected to make a decision on the wolf management plan in January.