The two main barren-ground caribou herds that have provided food, shelter and clothing for the Dene in the NWT, and Inuit in Western Nunavut are in “deadly serious decline,” according to recent survey numbers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The Bathurst and Bluenose East caribou herds have dropped by more than 50 per cent since 2015, according to numbers revealed yesterday by ENR Minister Robert C. McLeod.
Surveys conducted this past June estimate the Bathurst herd has only an estimated 8,200 animals left, down from 20,000 in 2015.
The Bluenose East population which is shared between the Sahtu and Tlicho regions after the Bathurst herd became restricted in 2009, is now estimated at 19,300 animals, down from 39,000 three years ago.
These caribou migrate annually between the Coronation Strait in Nunavut where they calve, to barren lands and treeline in the NWT and Northern Saskatchewan in the winter.
Earlier this year the GNWT released a draft range plan for the Bathurst Herd.
It’s a troubling international trend according to recent numbers looking at all wildlife from Living Planet’s 2018 report.
ENR Deputy Minister Joe Dragon suggests the government, in consultation with local management boards like the Wekezhii Renewable Resources Board and the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board may consider stricter hunting limits for the Bluenose East herd, by extending the current ban on hunting Bathurst caribou.
“We’ve tried things, We’ve tried looking at harvests. We’ve tried looking at habitat, unfortunately, it’s a natural process,” said Dragon on Tuesday.
Dragon pointed to Traditional knowledge indicating that caribou populations rise and fall over time, such as a drop in numbers during the 1970s that was followed by population booms in the 1980s.
This year a mobile no hunting zone will once again follow the dwindling Bathurst herd.
But humans alone are not to blame, Dragon added.
ENR estimates a single wolf can eat between 25 and 29 caribou per year, and their population is rising.
In some areas, incentives for harvesting and culling wolves is being considered.