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Bluenose East caribou quota would 'undermine traditional Dene conservation,' board rules

'It's been shown elsewhere that approach doesn't work,' says Paul Latour, vice-chair of the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board.

Sahtu board nixes total allowable harvest in favour of Deline's self-regulating approach

Caribou on the tundra. The Sahtu Renewable Resources Board has recommended no total allowable harvest for the struggling Bluenose East caribou herd in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region. (ENR/GNWT)

There will be no total allowable harvest for the struggling Bluenose East caribou herd in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region if the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board gets its way. 

The board announced Monday that imposing a quota "would undermine traditional Dene conservation practices that continue to be central to the relationship between people and caribou in the Sahtu."

The board held hearings in Deline in March with the goal of creating a three-year recovery strategy starting this fall. It marked the first time a community presented its own plan alongside one put forward by territorial government biologists.

The N.W.T. department of Environment and Natural Resources had proposed a total allowable harvest of 950 animals per year — 163 of those for the Sahtu region. Deline had proposed a harvest of 150 animals for that community alone, but it doesn't want to use tags to enforce that harvest. 

"It's been shown elsewhere that approach doesn't work," said Paul Latour, the board's vice-chair. "I guess the board feels here's a community coming along with a different tack. Maybe time to give it a try."

'A good chance of being workable'

The Bluenose East caribou herd, which straddles the N.W.T./Nunavut border, has declined rapidly in recent years — from an estimated 186,000 in 2003 to fewer than 40,000 in 2015.

Deline's plan is based on the community's relationship with caribou, with a heavy emphasis on preserving culture as well as the herd.

Its self-regulating approach would have the community manage and enforce hunting in Deline's region. The board is calling for amendments to the Wildlife Act to make that happen.

"Tags and heavy duty enforcement just is not going to work in the community," Latour said. "At the end of the day we decided [the community plan] had a good chance of being workable."

The decision stands in contrast to that of the Wek'èezhii Renewable Resources Board, which earlier this year set an even stricter total allowable harvest than that proposed by the territorial and Tlicho governments.

Both had suggested an annual bull caribou harvest of 950. Starting July 1, the board set a total allowable harvest within the Tlicho region of 750 bulls each year for the next three years. 

Total allowable harvest 'racist and dangerous'

In a news release, the neighbouring community of Colville Lake calls the idea of regulating the Indigenous hunt "racist and dangerous," noting a total allowable harvest implies that indigenous hunting is the cause of the herd's decline, and deflects attention from the real causes such as natural population cycles, industrial development and climate change.

Colville Lake Chief Wilbert Kochon says indigenous communities should be in charge of the wildlife they rely on.

"They are managing themselves," he says of Deline, which will officially become a self-governing community this week. "Time to start practicing your own laws."

In total the board made 39 recommendations.

It also recommends more funding and research on the herd's health — key points in both the territory's and Deline's plans.

The board's final report in now in the hands of ENR minister Wally Schumann, who has until Sept. 23 to accept, vary or set aside and replace the board's recommendations. 

It's not clear how the minister will reconcile the differences between the Sahtu and the Wek'èezhii boards' conservation plans. 

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to clarify that the territorial government and Deline were not far apart in their proposed caribou harvest reduction.
    Aug 30, 2016 11:38 AM CT

with files from Kate Kyle

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