North

Gov't is downplaying proposed all-season road's impact on N.W.T. caribou, say two Indigenous groups

The North Slave Métis Alliance and the Yellowknives Dene say the Government of the Northwest Territories is minimizing the impact its proposed Tlicho all-season road will have on the caribou population in the region.

North Slave Métis and Yellowknives Dene say Government of the Northwest Territories minimizing possible harm

Caribou mingle near Roundrock Lake west of Lac de Gras in N.W.T. Two Indigenous groups are saying the government needs to better consider potential impact to the boreal caribou herd in light of the proposed Tlich all-season road to Whati. (Anne Gunn/COSEWIC )

The North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) and the Yellowknives Dene say the Government of the Northwest Territories is minimizing the impact its proposed Tlicho all-season road will have on the caribou population in the region.

The government wants to build a 97-kilometre all-season road from Highway 3 to the small Tlicho fly-in community of Whati, approximately 160 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. The road would cut through the range of the boreal caribou herd, a species in decline.

In documents submitted to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, neither Indigenous group calls for the wholesale rejection of the road.

But both say the board should recognize the project could seriously impact the herd's health: the NSMA wants a full-scale impact mitigation plan to be a condition of approving road construction, and the Yellowknives Dene want more rigorous hunting regulations.

The boreal caribou are a species listed as threatened, or likely to become extinct, unless steps are taken to reverse its decline. The Yellowknives Dene say the government is pushing ahead with the project without knowing how many boreal caribou remain in the N.W.T., and without knowing whether their population is increasing or decreasing.

The North Slave Métis, along with the Yellowknives Dene, say the territorial government is using an extremely large study area — 44 million hectares — to minimize the impact the road will have on caribou habitat. In the context of that area, the government calculates 65 per cent of the boreal caribou's N.W.T. range will remain undisturbed — the minimum scientists say is needed to support a healthy population of boreal caribou.

But in a document filed with the board, the North Slave Métis say using a habitat area that size diminishes "more relevant and localized regional impacts" of the road. 

The North Slave Métis say the end effect of this is that "the GNWT's refusal to consider more localized impacts to boreal caribou" threatens their ability to harvest caribou "where they hold Aboriginal right to do so," particularly in southern portions of the range.

The environmental assessment of the road is almost complete. All that remains is for the Government of the Northwest Territories to make its final comments, due Jan. 19, 2018.

With files from Richard Gleeson

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