N.W.T. government endorses Deline's caribou plan, with caveats

The N.W.T. government has broadly endorsed a community-based caribou management plan put forward by Deline, although it disagrees about the total number of animals to be harvested.

'In a historical sense it's fairly significant,' says Paul Latour

'This marks the first time that a conservation plan led by local indigenous communities... is being accepted in principle for caribou management in Canada,' says the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board. ( Petter Jacobsen)

The N.W.T. government has broadly endorsed a community-based caribou management plan put forward by the community of Deline, although it disagrees about the total number of animals to be harvested.

"This marks the first time that a conservation plan led by local Indigenous communities — and relying on traditional Indigenous conservation systems — is being accepted in principle for caribou management in Canada," said the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board, in a press release sent out on Tuesday.

The news comes after the territorial government sent a letter to the board on Monday.

In the letter, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Robert C. McLeod wrote in support of the board's choice to accept many aspects of the plan developed by Deline to manage the beleaguered Bluenose East caribou herd in their territory.

The community's plan suggests putting monitoring and enforcement of hunting caribou in Deline's traditional territory in the hands of the community's renewable resources council — something the community has already been doing for the past harvest season.

"Management of a caribou herd, including the very sensitive management of Aboriginal harvest, is most likely to succeed if it is rooted in ways of managing that are community-based, consistent with traditional laws, and broadly supported," wrote McLeod.

The letter does not indicate anything final — it's simply the government's response to a series of recommendations made by the board during a caribou management hearing in August.

"In a historical sense it's fairly significant," says Paul Latour, the vice chair of the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board.  

"I don't know if it's a watershed or major shift, [but] certainly it's an innovative approach in the N.W.T."

How many should be hunted? 

There are several points, however, where the government disagrees with the community's proposal.

Deline's plan suggests the community be allowed to harvest 150 caribou. The government wants to see that number capped at 129 for the whole of the Sahtu.

"I can't really say how the two numbers will shake out," says Paul Latour.

"I think reasonable minds can come to a good consensus on this, and everybody walks away not getting 100 per cent of what they wanted, but reasonably happy."

An earlier proposal from the territorial government had suggested that the Sahtu be allowed to hunt 163 caribou.

However after a decision from the Wek'èezhìi Renewable Resources Board WRRB in the Tlicho region — which also deals with the migratory Bluenose East herd — to cap the total harvest at 750, rather than 950, the government is suggesting the Sahtu lower its number as well.

"Variable herd harvest management would allow one user group to potentially negatively affect the herd and thereby impact other user groups with equal rights to harvest that herd an equal interest in conservation and food security," says the government's letter.

Cows v. bulls

The second point of disagreement has to do with whether cows can be hunted.

The government wants the hunt to be restricted to bulls, "with the exception of a very limited ceremonial harvest of up to five cows."

That's in contrast to Deline's suggestion that cows could make up to 20 per cent of the allowable harvest

Again, as with harvest numbers, the government's position is influenced by a decision by the WRRB to limit hunting to bulls.

"In the interests of fairness, consistency, and the precautionary principle, ENR believes it is appropriate for all N.W.T. harvesters of the herd to follow the same harvest regime.

"It would be difficult to rationalize and manage harvest of 80 per cent bulls in the Sahtu region and 100 per cent bulls in Wek'èezhìi for the same herd, particularly as harvesters from the two land claim areas may be harvesting in the other land claim area."

October decision date

Broadly speaking, however, the government's letter makes it clear that, "ENR accepts the Deline Plan and proposed approach to compliance on Bluenose-East caribou harvest management, and would like ENR officers to work with the community on compliance programs."

The government's position will be presented to the community during a meeting in Deline in October.

After some more back and forth between the SRRB and the government, a final decision is expected in late October, says Latour.

with files from Kate Kyle