Northerners voice concerns at Wildlife Act hearings

Northerners voice concerns at Wildlife Act hearings
Bob Bromley (right) and Robert Hawkins, chair of the standing committee, discuss the Wildlife Act with interested members of the public last Monday in Fort Smith.Photo: Renee Francoeur.

When it comes to the Northwest Territories’ proposed new Wildlife Act, Northerners are concerned about governance, harvest reporting and hunters’ residencies, as heard at recent public hearings.

The Wildlife Act, also known as Bill 3, includes major changes to the current piece of legislation, which was first drafted in 1988.

After being voted down at the eleventh hour at the end of the 16th Assembly, the bill received second reading in the Legislative Assembly on Mar. 5 before being handed over to the standing committee on Economic Development and Infrastructure, chaired by Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, to undergo a public hearing process.

Under the new act, people with Aboriginal and treaty rights in the NWT will require agreed-upon ID to hunt and harvest in their area. Existing General Hunting Licences will be grandfathered.

The new legislation sets out updated, acceptable harvesting methods and equipment for both big and small game hunters, and increases fines and penalties for wildlife offences.

Additionally, the act establishes cooperative governance through an annual meeting of organizations responsible for wildlife management in the NWT. This meeting is limited to Aboriginal governments and treaty holders.

“I want to see all authorities in the NWT represented at that meeting,” Paul McAdams, a Fort Smith resident, former president of the Fort Smith Conservation Association and former vice president of the NWT Wildlife Federation, complained. “When a new Wildlife Act was pulled off the table in 2011, it was partly because the idea of a conference board was such a big issue – it didn’t include any representation of resident hunters or really half of the population of the NWT.”

McAdams was one of eight people who turned up at the hearing in Fort Smith last Monday.

Speaking to McAdam’s concerns, Hawkins noted that the act does state that in addition to the annual governance meeting, “there will be an established process for other individuals and organizations to make submissions on wildlife management issues.”

Committee member and Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley told McAdams he’d also like to see all voices at the table working together.

“Just because it’s not prescribed in the legislation, doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” he said. “This act has very little to do with giving or taking away responsibility with respect to Aboriginal governments. That has to be clear.

This act does not provide Aboriginal governments with any additional authority. It is one of the most complex pieces of legislation.”

Other comments made during the hearing included thoughts on the scrapped mandatory harvest reporting piece initially drafted in the act.

The department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) decided that mandatory reporting cannot be tied to obtaining a hunting licence, as Aboriginal people do not require a licence to exercise their harvesting rights.

“We can’t get people to report, but we’d like them then to do some sort of informal reporting, set up some informal mechanism, but this would have to be done internally,” Hawkins said.

“Aboriginal governments recognize the importance of reporting…The (ENR) minister gave us assurance that this issue will be addressed.”

Mandatory reporting will be dealt with in the regulations part of the process, if the bill passes successfully through the House this fall.

According to Bromley, regulations would take one year to develop.

The act also reduces the length of residency required for a resident hunting license from two years to one, which has caused some debate in the hearings so far, the committee said.

“Some people want it to stay at two years; some want it to be one. It’s kind of a 50/50 deal,” said Robert Bouchard, committee member and MLA for Hay River North. “Some regions were concerned the reduction would bring in more people who are only here temporarily, but we have to remember we’re dealing with a small number of resident hunters.”

According to Hawkins, there are about 1,000 active non-Aboriginal hunters in the NWT and the change in residency will affect “less than a dozen of them.”

The hearings, which began in Tsiigehtchic on Apr. 10, continue this week in Fort Providence and Fort Simpson.

The public has until June 24 to submit written comments on the act, after which the committee will make its report to the House.

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