Happy New Year: Nunavut bans caribou hunting on Baffin
Interim moratorium starts Jan. 1, charges and fines possible for illegal caribou hunting
People who hunt caribou on Baffin Island could face charges and fines after an interim hunting ban kicks in Jan. 1, the Government of Nunavut said Dec. 19 in a news release.
“As of January 1, 2015, hunting caribou on Baffin Island may result in an investigation that could lead to fines and/or charges,” a GN question and answer document said.
“If we do not stop hunting now, the effects will be permanent. There will be no more caribou on Baffin Island, and Inuit culture will be even more impacted,” the GN said.
The GN also said they will not compensate hunters for any loss of income created by the interim moratorium.
The ban covers all of Baffin Island, including islands in Foxe Basin, Bylot Island, and various islands close to the Baffin Island coast. Melville Peninsula is excluded from the ban.
The GN first threatened to impose a caribou hunting moratorium this past Dec. 1, in a submission to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.
That occurred after the GN abandoned a plan — first put forth in 2013 — to work with hunters and trappers organizations on community-based caribou management.
But the community-based approach appears to have failed.
That’s because HTOs have not implemented any community-based measures, the GN said in its submission to the wildlife board.
“[A]nd there is some concern that not all Baffin HTOs have the capacity to implement restrictions on their members,” the GN submission said.
The NWMB has yet to rule on the issue, but did pass a resolution on the issue Dec. 1. That means the GN is now acting on its own to ban caribou hunting on Baffin until the population recovers, pending an NWMB public hearing next year. (See document embedded below.)
GN aerial surveys have revealed Baffin’s caribou population now stands between 3,462 and 6,250 animals, with a best guess of 4,652, a 95 per cent reduction from a population of about 150,000 animals estimated during the 1980s, when caribou thrived on the island.
And in North Baffin, the caribou population is threatened with extirpation — only about 315 caribou are left there, the GN said in earlier survey reports.
The GN does not blame hunters for the population crash, saying it’s a natural population cycle.
But human activities do play a role, the GN said.
“Apart from the natural cycle, Baffin Island caribou are facing additional pressures with more sophisticated hunting techniques and equipment. In addition increased human populations, infrastructure and other human activity may be having a negative effect,” the GN said.
The interim hunting ban will remain indefinitely. “There is no immediate solution to this situation. It is unknown how long it will take to reach a sustainable Baffin Island caribou population,” the GN said.
But they said the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board will hold a public hearing on the issue in the spring of 2015.
At that meeting, GN officials are expected to present a draft caribou management plan.
Right now, there’s no management plan for caribou on Baffin Island. And there won’t be any until after the NWMB rules on the issue.
This past November, Gabriel Nirlungayuk, deputy minister of the Nunavut environment department, said such a management plan could be completed in “two or three months.”
In it’s Dec. 1 submission, the GN presented the NWMB with three options for responding to the recent crash in Baffin Island caribou numbers:
• a total moratorium on the harvest of all caribou on Baffin Island until the population recovers;
• a total allowable harvest for all of Baffin Island that restricts the harvest to bulls only and to one per cent of the estimated population; or,
• a harvest ban on all core ranges of caribou on Baffin Island: North Baffin, Prince Charles Island, core areas of the Hall and Meta Incognita peninsulas and between Nettilling Lake and Amadjuak Lake.
The GN’s legal justification for the ban is contained in Section 5.3.24 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
“When urgent and unusual circumstances require an immediate modification in harvesting activities, the Minister or the Minister’s delegated agent may make and implement any reasonable interim decision,” the NLCA says.
But after such an interim decision, the NLCA says the NWMB must do a full review “as soon as practicable thereafter.”
Johnny Mike, the Nunavut environment minister, said in the GN news release that the Baffin caribou population crash is an urgent situation that requires immediate action.