Western Nunavut caribou herds continue decline: preliminary survey report
Observations of Bathurst and Bluenose-East calving grounds “consistent with a natural declining trend”
New preliminary survey results on the Barrenland caribou herds that roam western Nunavut and the Northwest Territories point to continuing declines in these herds’ numbers.
This past June, survey teams with representatives from the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the Tlicho Government, Wek’eezhii Renewable Resources Board, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, NWT Métis Nation and numerous community representatives flew over the calving grounds of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East.
The survey was conducted at the peak of calving as the weather was good, allowing for “very good field data and photographs,” said Ernie Campbell, the NWT’s environment and natural resources minister, In a widely-circulated letter sent out last month.
Campbell said “we can expect a high level of confidence in the final survey results.”
But what the surveyors found won’t make hunters happy.
Their preliminary findings, attached to Campbell’s letter, suggest further decreases in both herds since the last calving ground photo surveys in 2012 for the Bathurst herd and in 2013 for the Bluenose-East.
Overall they found a lower proportion of breeding cows, lower calf survival rates and lower adult cow survival rates “consistent with a natural declining trend.”
Government surveys from 2014 also showed the two caribou herds were each in trouble: the herd size of Bluenose-East caribou was down from 90,000 animals in 2009 to 20,000 in 2010 and that of Bathurst caribou down from about 60,000 in 2006 to fewer than 10,000 in 2014.
Campbell said there’s a need for discussion now on how to deal with the declines.
The estimates of breeding females will be available in early fall, with final population estimates in September for the Bathurst herd and in early November for the Bluenose-East.
As a result of the dire numbers from previous surveys, there’s a total ban on hunting of the Bathurst caribou in the NWT, and only 1,800 caribou can be taken from the Bluenose-East — and then only by Aboriginal hunters.
Hunters in Nunavut have said they’d prefer to see predation control programs instead of bans or quotas.
That’s because an adult wolf can consume 30 to 50 caribou a year, and grizzly bears 10 to 30 caribou per year.