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Tlicho members fear hardship, hunger from caribou hunting restrictions

'Our unemployment is very high and we depend on caribou a lot,' said William Weyallon of Behchoko, N.W.T., to the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resource Board Thursday afternoon during public hearings on proposed hunting restrictions.

Public hearings on Bluenose East caribou management plan wrapped up in Behchoko Friday

Members of the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resource Board listen to presentations during the first day of hearings in Behchoko, N.W.T., on a proposed management plan for the Bluenose East caribou herd. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A proposed management plan calling for further hunting restrictions on the rapidly declining Bluenose East caribou herd has some Tlicho beneficiaries worried.

"Our unemployment is very high and we depend on caribou a lot," said William Weyallon of Behchoko, N.W.T., to the Wek'eezhii Renewable Resource Board during public hearings on the plan Thursday. 

Weyallon says he knows the caribou population is going down, but says further restriction would create hardship and food insecurity for his people.

"We also have families to support, to feed," he said. "We're pleading... to get tags."

In 2014/2015, aboriginal groups in the N.W.T. were only allowed to harvest 1,800 Bluenose East caribou. A joint management plan proposed by the Tlicho Government and the N.W.T.'s Department of Environment and Natural Resources would allow aboriginal hunters in the N.W.T. to hunt just 611 animals starting this fall. 

The reality of another drastic hunting reduction worries 87-year-old Phillip Dryneck.

"I am very upset. I am not very happy."

During the hearing, Dryneck quoted Chief Monfwi after he signed Treaty 11 nearly 100 years ago, an agreement promising the Tlicho would not lose their right to hunt, fish and trap, in exchange for use of their land.

"'As long as the sunrise and the river flows, my people will never be restricted from hunting,'" Dryneck said. "Now it seems all of this has been forgotten."

It's not clear whether those fears will have an impact on the board's decision.

"We have to be really careful as we move forward here," said ENR biologist Bruno Croft.

Both the Tlicho and territorial government looked at a number of models projecting how different harvesting levels could affect the herd, including no harvest. Both groups agree that a total allowable harvest of 950 (611 plus a suggested 339 for harvesters in Nunavut) is an acceptable level of risk for the herd.

"I can't see a harvest increase anytime soon," said Croft. "But we need to be talking together."

A territorial biologist predicts the herd's status will likely get worse before it gets better, potentially leading to further harvest reductions down the road.

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