Saskatchewan

Caribou hunters worried about sparsity in Saskatchewan's north

The caribou is a crucial source of meat for people in Saskatchewan's far north — but this year the migrating animals are not appearing in traditional hunting areas, experts say.
This is a photo of the barren-ground caribou. Prospects for hunters in northern Saskatchewan have been particularly bleak this year.

The caribou is a crucial source of meat for people in Saskatchewan's far north — but this year the migrating animals are not appearing in traditional hunting areas, experts say.

"That's meat that we rely on, on a daily basis," said Louis Mercredi, a hunter and trapper from the Fond du Lac area who says migration patterns have been disrupted, increasingly resulting in unsuccessful hunts. 

"What do you do?" he asks.

Switching to more store-bought food is not an appealing option in a Dene region where a four-litre jug of milk goes for $21, Mercedi says. 

Mercredi's first-hand experience is backed up by Tina Giroux, a wildlife biologist who has been involved for years in efforts to track caribou populations in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan.

In past years, caribou have reached the treeline in northern Saskatchewan, but that hasn't happened this year, she said.

She says no one is sure about why it's happening, although there are theories it's related to climate change or forest fires.

Caribou eat lichen, and when fires destroy it, it can take decades to recover, she said.

The answer may be for governments to take a more aggressive stance fighting fires in caribou habitats, even if they're distant from populated areas, she said.

More recently, there are concerns that a milder-than-usual winter has turned normally frozen lakes slushy, making it tougher for the animals to migrate.

It's still possible that caribou will be on the move this year and hunting prospects will improve, she said. 

In the short term, governments will need to ensure that people affected by the caribou shorting are getting the food they need, she said.