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Bathurst herd worries continue

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 11/06) - At its lowest point since population surveys began in 1986, the plight of the Bathurst caribou herd - down from 472,000 to 128,000 over twenty years - was the focus of the Bathurst Caribou Management Planning Committee talks in Yellowknife last week.

"There's no apparent turn in this downward trend," said Ken Hudson, representing the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, who believes a management board is necessary.

Hunters, outfitters, industry and government representatives met in Yellowknife last week to discuss the state of the Bathurst Caribou herd. The Bathurst herd continues to decline from 472,000 animals in 1986 to 186,000 in 2003 and now at the lowest point since counts began on the herd, 128,000. - photo courtesy of Environment and Natural Resources

"Do we wait until it's down to 50,000 before we take action? The committee is okay but if there's a board, the minister will take our recommendations more seriously."

Hudson said restrictions on aboriginal hunters is the likely next step.

"It will boil down to aboriginal people having to cut back," he said. "And one thing we can't do is to continue to watch the decline."

Former Tlicho Grand Chief Joe Rabesca - also in attendance - agreed action had to be taken, that perhaps a quota on the aboriginal hunt was necessary but differed with Hudson on the need to create a Bathurst caribou management board.

"We've got a board in place for the Tlicho," he said, referring to the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board. "The reason we have this board is because we want to have a lot of input to what happens on our land."

Jim Peterson, president of the Barren Ground Caribou Outfitters Association, shared Rabesca's view.

"We have enough boards and agencies, why create another?" he said, adding that the government needed to monitor the aboriginal hunt - something that is not currently done.

"How can our wildlife department establish wildlife management plans and controls if we don't know how many caribou we've harvested?" he asked.

"All they're doing right now is guessing."

Last year, resident non-aboriginal hunters had their caribou quotas reduced from five tags to two.

During the period between 1999 and 2005, 5,815 caribou tags were used by barren ground outfitters. The best estimate Environment and Natural Resources has on the aboriginal hunt is between 11,000 and 20,000 animals taken annually throughout the territories.

Peterson went on to say that the onus is now on the aboriginal groups not only to monitor their hunts but cut back on the number of animals taken as well.

"Resident hunters and outfitters have limited their hunts and it's time for the aboriginal people to do their part and start limiting theirs," Peterson said.

"Are we looking out for traditional rights or for the caribou?"

The next major gathering to discuss caribou population declines - this time for herds whose range includes the Beaufort-Delta region - is the Environment and Natural Resources-sponsored "Caribou Summit," scheduled for Inuvik Jan. 23 to 25.