Baker HTO worried about caribou grounds

Caribou board launches survey as prospectors swarm over calving grounds

By JIM BELL

Worried about the health of the Beverly and Qaminirujuaq caribou herds, the Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization last month asked the federal and territorial governments for a one-year moratorium on the issuance of mineral permits within a huge section of the Kivalliq region in 2006.
“This is a primary hunting ground for the people of Baker Lake,” the Baker Lake HTO said in their letter, signed by Joedee Joedee of Baker Lake, and addressed to ex-DIAND minister Andy Scott and Nunavut’s environment minister, Olayuk Akesuk.

DIAND has agreed to a one-year moratorium for the Akaitcho Dene First Nation on the Northwest Territories side of the division boundary, where stakeholders are doing conservation planning for a “special management area” aimed at protecting caribou, especially river crossings, calving areas, and post-calving areas.

But unlike NWT, Nunavut has no protected areas strategy. An approved land use plan does exist for the Kivalliq region, but a process for updating it in light of Nunavut’s recent explosion of prospecting activity is now in limbo.

That’s because the Nunavut government withdrew from the Nunavut Planning Commission’s land use planning processes in January of 2005.

No one from the GN bothered to respond after being contacted by Nunatsiaq News about a week ago for its position on these issues.

At any rate, it looks as if the Baker Lake request was made too late for anyone to do anything about it anyway. The letter was sent Jan. 23, only a week before DIAND’s annual Feb. 1 deadline for announcing the granting of mineral permits.

Carl McLean, DIAND’s manager of land administration, said his office had little choice but to grant this year’s batch of mineral permit requests, which would have been made between Dec. 1 and Dec. 30, 2005.

He also pointed out that a mineral permit is not the same as a land use permit, which prospectors need before they can actually set up camps and start digging.

To get a land use permit, companies must submit applications to the Nunavut Planning Commission, and then to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which makes recommendations to DIAND, who incorporate them into their responses to companies.

The Baker Lake hunters say in their letter that they need “breathing space” to figure out which lands should be protected and which lands should be made available for development.

That’s because in 2004 and 2005, scores of prospecting permits, mineral claims and mineral leases were granted on areas covering caribou calving grounds. In areas believed to contain the Beverly herd’s calving grounds, for example, 81 mineral claims have been granted to uranium companies.

At the same time, biologists do not have updated information about the caribou herds’ migration routes, and population size. The Beverly and Qaminirujuaq herds, for example, have not had a population survey since 1994.

To fix that, the Beverly and Qaminirujuaq Caribou Management Board has now put together enough money to pay for a radio-collar tracking survey that’s aimed at figuring out where the caribou actually travel on their massive annual migrations.

Ross Thompson, the secretary-treasurer for the board, said the Government of the Northwest Territories, the World Wildlife Fund, DIAND, and uranium companies such as Titan and Cogema are helping to pay for the collaring study.

“It’s a very, very good start, and it leads to better information and collaboration,” Thompson said.

The caribou board is made up of aboriginal and government representatives from Nunavut, NWT, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The herds generally winter as far south as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and then head into Nunavut and NWT in the spring and summer.

Until now, aboriginal representatives on the board have been opposed to the idea of putting radio collars on caribou.

But Thompson said biologists will use new, lightweight “break-way collars” for their survey. GPS transmitters on the collars will send information to researchers about where the caribou are. And at the same time, researchers can, at any time, send a signal to the collar that causes it to break off if the caribou shows signs of distress.

In about June of 2007, Thompson said, the board will also start population surveys for both herds.

This will provide crucial information, because other northern caribou populations, such as the Bathurst herd to the west, are in serious decline.

Thompson said the feeling among biologists is that the Beverly and Qaminirjuaq herds are “fewer in number,” but that can’t be confirmed until after the population surveys are done.

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