'They expect us to row a cardbox box across the ocean,' he says

HTO manager struggles as the work piles up


KUGLUKTUK – Stacks of letters, documents and reports cover a huge boardroom table in the Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization office where HTO manager Peter Taptuna works his way through the various piles.

Urgent emails pile up on his computer screen, the telephone rings and hunters wander in and out, seeking information about the hunter support program's yearly draw of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

A chat over a cup of coffee costs Taptuna precious time and means he'll likely have to work at night – again – to catch up.

During the eight years Taptuna has worked at the Kugluktuk Angoniatit HTO, his workload has only increased.

Taptuna says the Kugluktuk HTO needs more money to train staff and then to work on behalf of its local hunters. Without money, staff or resources, the HTO will remain strapped.

"They expect us to row a cardboard box across the ocean," Taptuna said.

That's because, in addition to a daily load of dealings with hunters in the community, the HTO must look after wildlife management issues and review the many mining developments around Kuglu­ktuk.

The pre-hearing conference on Zinifex's future copper and zinc mine at High Lake, 175 kilometres east of Kugluktuk, takes place in Kugluktuk, from Dec. 5 to 7, and the Angoniatit HTO is expected to present the concerns of the community's hunters.

The High Lake project consists of a mine at High Lake, a dock facility at Grays Bay on the Coronation Gulf, an airstrip 12 km north of the mine at Sand Lake and a 53 km all-season road between the mine and the dock.

Looking at the possible impacts of this project required extensive reading and consultation – and that's just one of the mining projects under development at Kugluktuk's door.

Preparing a thorough review meant Taptuna scrambled to find extra money so the HTO could afford to hire a consultant.

Taptuna, the HTO's sole full-time employee, says he's been forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find local help for the HTO because most skilled residents have jobs at the mines or in government offices.

Kugluktuk also has a different set of wildlife to worry about than other Nunavut regions. He hunts grizzly bears and wolverines rather than belugas, narwhal or polar bears.

Yet he says local hunting rules are being set by those who have never seen a grizzly or wolverine.

Both animals are considered endangered in southern Canada. This status may eventually affect how many of these animals hunters in Kugluktuk can take.

Grizzlies are common in the area, he said. But Kugluktuk's grizzlies are considered a wildlife species at some risk of extinction, by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which advises the federal government on the wildlife.

COSEWIC says the future of grizzly populations that are either completely or mostly isolated, like Kugluktuk's, is "highly uncertain and dependent on conservation."

This means Kugluktuk only has five tags to hunt grizzly bears: two for local hunters and three for sport hunts.

Taptuna wants this quota increased. But he will need to provide convincing evidence that the grizzly population is in good health.

Another animal that Taptuna said is plentiful is the wolverine, or "kalvik" in Innuinaqtun. It's a fierce and strong animal about the size of a bear cub with short, powerful legs and large feet. Its fur is used as a warm, wind resistant trim for parkas.

In May 2003, COSEWIC reassessed the status of wolverine, finding the eastern Canadian wolverine population still endangered, and the future of the western population "of special concern." There's been talk of establishing a total allowable harvest for this species, too.

But research drawing on traditional knowledge in Kugluktuk says the population of wolverine around the community is stable, with small fluctuations in number, thanks to a good habitat and plentiful food.

Wolverines are also thought to be increasing in number or moving north. People have spotted wolverines in greater numbers on some nearby islands where they were rarely found in the past.

The HTO has collected thousands of fur samples for DNA testing to demonstrate the health and make-up of its wolverine population.

About 200 wolverines are hunted every year around Kugluktuk – and Taptuna would like to see this hunt maintained, no matter how dire the state of wolverines is to the South.

"We don't want to see the wolverine be a tag species. We are sure the populations and our harvest are sustainable," he said.

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