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Sport-hunting businesses face extinction

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Dec 22/06) - The livelihood of barren ground caribou outfitters was hanging by a thread Tuesday after Environment Minister Michael McLeod recommended that caribou tags for the industry be reduced by 70 per cent.

"We're certainly aware the proposed actions are going to create economic hardship," said McLeod of his recommendation that was vetted by cabinet. "(But) the harvest is one of the areas we can control and agreements with the Tlicho and Wek'eezhii Renewable Resources Board (WRRB) require that we target resident hunters and outfitters first."

News of McLeod's recommendation did not sit well with outfitters who turned out at an emergency meeting yesterday demanding the minister re-think his position.

"When I got the news I was flabbergasted," said Jim Peterson, president of the Barren Ground Caribou Outfitters Association. "Last year (former ENR minister) Michael Miltenberger said our (individual tag limit of) 180 would be reduced to 132 and we agreed. We want to do our part but this will wipe out 10 businesses."

This past season, 10 outfitters in the North Slave region were issued 1,243 tags and used 727. McLeod has proposed to the WRRB that only 350 tags be issued to outfitters in the coming season.

With the industry reporting that more than 500 hunts are already booked for next year, outfitters such as Gary Jabe said the proposed tag limit would spell disaster.

"This is life or death, you've got us up against the wall," he told ENR Deputy Minister Bob Bailey, who appeared uncomfortable in the face of disgruntled outfitters and the half-dozen MLAs who turned out to support them.

"It's not a viable proposal," said Bill Braden, MLA for Great Slave. "And I will appeal to the minister on this issue."

Outfitter Boyd Warner, also in attendance, questioned the wisdom of effectively shutting down an industry he feels ultimately benefits the caribou.

"My outfitting businesses last year alone harvested over 20 wolves," he said.

He said it is believed an individual wolf will kill between 30 and 50 caribou a year.

"That means we saved potentially more caribou than all the outfitters harvested... this information shows that we are contributing more to the management of the herd than we harvest," he said.

At times emotional, Peterson cited the territorial government barren ground caribou management strategy's pledge to examine "ways to maintain the viability of the outfitting industry."

"We've invested millions, our life savings and a lot of blood, sweat and tears," said Peterson. "And what the government's proposing will put us out of business."