Population increases and stabilization throughout barren ground caribou herds could mean lifting some hunting restrictions for Aboriginal harvesters and resident hunters, according to Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger.
“The sacrifices of the barren ground caribou harvesters during the past several years have not been in vain,” Miltenberger told MLAs on Feb. 9, indicating there are positive signs the population declines may be over.
He said recent surveys indicate the Porcupine herd has increased from an estimated 123,000 animals in 2001 to 169,000 in 2010, while the Bluenose-East herd population has increased from 65,100 in 2006 to 98,600 in 2010.
Cape Bathurst and Bluenose-West herds have reached a stabilization point, although numbers remain “very low.” Calving ground surveys of the Ahiak herd in 2011 suggest that herd is also stable, although the GNWT is awaiting final results from the Nunavut government.
Miltenberger said results from an April 2011 survey of the Bathurst herd, which has been protected by a total ban on harvesting, show a 46:100 calf-to-cow ratio, which is considered good and suggests the herd has stabilized. A similar survey of the Bluenose-East herd showed a 41:100 calf-to-cow ration, which is considered normal.
The minister credited the ban for the increased numbers.
“The reduction in harvest has helped these herds to stabilize and, in some cases, increase. I thank everyone for their sacrifices and their commitment to maintaining healthy and sustainable barren ground caribou populations for current and future generations,” he said.
While in Fort Smith for a meeting with constituents on Feb. 2, Miltenberger suggested that healthy population stats resulting from surveys set to take place this summer could have an effect on current hunting restrictions.
“There have been positive signs and they’ve shown some recovery, so we’ll see if it’s possible to go back to unrestricted Aboriginal harvesting and restricted hunting,” he said. “But we can’t go to restricted hunting without going to unrestricted Aboriginal harvesting first.”
A complete ban on hunting Bathurst caribou on their winter grounds was imposed in January 2010. In December 2010, a limited Aboriginal harvest of 300 animals was allowed, shared by the Yellowknives Dene and Tlicho communities.
No other herds are permitted to be hunted across the territory except for Aboriginal subsistence harvesting and a limited harvest of the Porcupine herd.
Miltenberger told the Legislature that 2012 population surveys are needed to give more concrete information on the herds. The department will complete surveys of the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East and Bathurst herds this summer.
A draft management plan for the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds is in the final stages of public review with comments closing at the end of the month. The department aims to have a final plan for the Bathurst herd by this fall.
“The results of the surveys, the guidance provided by the management plans, and recommendations on herd harvest levels from the Wildlife Management Boards will allow us to re-examine current limitations on barren ground caribou harvesting,” said Miltenberger.