A year-long ban on hunting bison in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary began Nov. 1, following the deadliest anthrax outbreak in Northern history killing at least one third of the Mackenzie wood bison herd.
A minimum of 440 bulls, cows and calves were lost over the two-month period, beginning on July 3 when 128 carcasses were found at Mills Lake north of Fort Providence and ending in late August. According to Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Minister Michael Miltenberger, that drop puts the herd below harvesting limits.
“Wood bison are a federally listed Species at Risk in Canada. The herd now numbers less than 1,000 animals, meaning it is no longer considered to be recovered as defined by the draft national Recovery Strategy for the wood bison in Canada,” Miltenberger announced last week.
“Normally, anthrax affects mostly bulls; however, this outbreak affected many cows and even calves. The high loss of cows during this outbreak will affect calf recruitment in the herd for years to come,” he said.
Because the herd is seen as essential to nationwide recovery of the species, Miltenberger said both the Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board and the Mackenzie Wood Bison Management Plan Working Group have recommended closing harvesting for at least one full year.
ENR already rescinded limited entry draw and outfitted tags for 2012 in August, and closed all harvesting between Frank Channel and Yellowknife, which had been open to general hunting licence-holders, on Oct. 5. Consultations with Aboriginal governments and groups on reducing or eliminating all wood bison tags for the 2012-13 season took place this fall.
“Based on these consultations and in an effort to give this valuable resource every opportunity to recover from this significant setback, I am announcing today that I will be taking steps to close all harvesting of the Mackenzie wood bison herd for the current hunting season,” Miltenberger said last Wednesday.
ENR plans to undertake a population survey of the herd in the spring of 2013, following regular monitoring over the winter. Miltenberger said these initiatives will be used to discuss potential future management actions with the Tlicho government, Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board, Mackenzie Bison Working Group and other partners.
“We understand this places hardship on harvesters, but the conservation of one of the few disease-free wood bison herds in Canada is a priority,” he concluded.