Blanket protection for Nunavut caribou not the only option: wildlife biologist

“Are caribou at risk of extinction in Nunavut? No”

Barrenland caribou numbers may be in decline in Nunavut, but there’s no consensus on how to protect them, a session at the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit revealed. (File photo)

By Jane George

A wildlife biologist with a long history of work on environmental assessments of mines in Nunavut remains unconvinced that total protection of lands now used by caribou will increase their numbers.

“Are caribou at risk of extinction in Nunavut? No. Will the Nunavut Land Use Plan save them by protection? No.”

That was a final reflection from Mike Setterington of EDI Environmental Dynamics Inc., during his presentation at an April 3 session called “Are caribou at risk of extinction and will the Nunavut Land Use Plan save them?,” at this week’s Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit.

While no one disputes that caribou herds are in decline, not everyone agrees with the solution proposed by the Nunavut Planning Commission, whose proposed draft Nunavut Land Use Plan is still undergoing revision.

The plan would create widespread protected areas for caribou, some of which covers Inuit-owned lands. This has sparked criticism from the three regional Inuit associations, who say that granting protected status to areas that overlap with Inuit-owned lands interferes with the Inuit right to develop their own lands.

In his presentation, Setterington acknowledged the two competing points of views on the situation: one from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada that says these caribou are threatened and there’s no sign of rapid recovery at this time and that the cumulative threats facing caribou are “without historical precedent.”

The other says that, while disturbances have effect on caribou, it’s still not been demonstrated that these result in a population decline.

In 2016, the final Draft Nunavut Land Use Plan offered blanket protection for caribou calving grounds.

But Setterington pointed out that these can change, and if they’re protected, they could end up being protected “empty space” areas.

Inuit in western Nunavut have also maintained that caribou have a history of movement and that the land use plan restrictions would stop mining on their own Inuit-owned lands, which cover about 100,000 square kilometres, even where there are no caribou.

But the decline in barrenland caribou is marked: they numbered more than two million in the early 1990s. Today the current population of barren-ground caribou is estimated at about 800,000.

While most subpopulations have declined dramatically, two have increased, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Southhampton Island herd. But several of the largest herds have declined by 80 per cent from peak numbers, according to the most recent assessment from COSEWIC.

Estimating caribou numbers have always been contentious, Setterington pointed out.

The “caribou crisis” dates back to the 1960s and before then, and sparked government imposed restricutions such as prohibiting the use of caribou to feed dog teams and relocating communities away from caribou herds.

Science still says disturbances from human activities are responsible for the decline, along with climate changes, overhunting, predation, diseases and insects, while traditional knowledge emphasizes predation, hunting and insects, followed by development, climate change, disease and pollution.

Inuit also say caribou move around, so protecting certain areas might miss the mark entirely.

Although the land use plan proposes no mineral exploration and production, oil and gas production, quarries, hydro-electric development or all-weather roads be built on caribou calving grounds, Setterington suggested that it could be wiser to focus on  protecting critical habitats through ecosystem management, not a complete protection of specific areas.

Ecosystem management involves a more integrated approach to protection, by trying to conserve natural resources while meeting socioeconomic, political, and cultural needs.

As it stands now,  mines cover .006 per cent of Nunavut, or about 13,000 hectares, said Setterington, who during his career worked for the Government of Nunavut in Arviat as well as on the caribou section of the environmental impact assessment for the Mary River mine in north Baffin.

He’d also like to see provide convincing evidence on a case-by-case basis that protection is the only way of ensuring herd health and that other measures are not working.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Broken record on

    Not mentioned in this presentation is how he is a gun for hire for industry. His only clients are mines & he has made a career representing development. Does anyone really think that a mine in the middle of a calving ground is a good idea? Ask any other caribou biologist. Or better yet go ask elders.

    If the threshold we are talking about is if caribou are at risk of extinction in Nunavut, we’ve already lost.

    • Posted by Observer on

      Why do you assume that a biologist who works for an NGO or environmental protection group opposed to industry wouldn’t be just as biased?

      • Posted by This is our food on

        I live on Baffin Island where there is not enough tuktu to go around now. While my hunt for this species is heavily regulated, the mining companies can go mine the calving grounds of what is left of the herd. I am not up For hormone ingested foods for life, so lets give the herd a chance and protect the bit of land the tuktu need to recover properly. This is the least we can do for a great source of nutritional food we have been blessed with since time immemorial.

    • Posted by Cathy Mackay on

      Perhaps this isn’t biased at all but a presentation of some facts to consider?!! I didn’t notice a pro- industry or anti-industry statement in the presentation, it’s intent, or the journalist’s summary of the presentation.

  2. Posted by Hunter on

    Are tuktoo at risk of extinction on Baffin Island?

    Yes they are.

    • Posted by Lifer on

      Yes, caribou are at risk. Anyone who has lived here knows that.
      This report only shows a scientist being stupid.

  3. Posted by Hunger Games on

    The Nunavut Mining Symposium is about 3 things, greed, money and mining. These people absolutely do not care about Inuit, their lifestyle and the environment. It’s intended goal is to basically water down what their true intent, then achieve support from a selected group of politicians who have the authority to make the world turn in their favor. I liken these folks including the politicians who fall for their schemes to President Snow (Hunger Games). Your Inuit reps under the auspices of the regional associations have fallen for this as well. It is a bleak future for the protection of your identity, your lifestyle, and the one animal that have provided sustenance to many of you, the caribou and its environment.

    • Posted by Business on

      Your are correct, it’s about the money. It is called doing business. Companies who give to charities, before putting their business needs first, will not make it. Keeping culture alive is one thing, running a business, is another. Can you combine both? Of course, you can. Having limited caribou in the Baffin can also be associated with over-harvesting.

      • Posted by Tagak Curley on

        With respect to Baffin caribou that were abundant in late 1990s to early 2000, the fact is it wasn’t over harvest that most biologist would like you to believe. Those herds crossed over to Baffin over to and moved back to the mainland was the result of fewer caribous on Baffin Island now. Not over harvest is the result.

  4. Posted by fact checker on

    “Blanket protection for Nunavut caribou not the only option: mining biologist”
    – there, fixed the headline for you.

  5. Posted by Consistency on

    We need our tuktu so that our kids kids can still hunt. tuktu do shift there range.. and if anything i think this statement means we should protect more area because perhaps an area that has no tuktu right now might be the habitat they need in 50 years… however if a mine is built there then they wont be able to use that area then.
    And we should be the ones to say what can be done on IOL, and i think right now we need to protect tuktu calving and migration routes. When we get to the point that every inuk that can work is working and there are even more that want to work but no jobs available then lets consider mines that could impact our tuktu, but not before them. Right now anyone that wants a job can get one… after they put time in training.

  6. Posted by Putuguk on

    Tuktu Nogak Park to protect the calving grounds of the Bluenose East herd. They then moved and started calving closer to the diamond mines and exploration. No calving there now.

    Ukkusiksalik National Park partly to protect the calving grounds of the Wager Bay herd. They then moved and started calving closer to diamond exploration and a major iron project to the north. No calving there now.

    A Critical Wildlife Area created for Bathurst Caribou years ago. They then moved and started calving way to the west, closer to diamond mines and a new mine development. No calving there now.

    3 real examples, among others, of this problem. And what is the end result?

    No protection, no development, No choice. Smarten up Nunavut. There is a better way.

    Kivalliq had mobile protection measures for decades that were found effective. Kitikmeot wants the same. The mainland of Nunavut had this almost figured out before the preservationists stepped in.

    The southern preservationists that riddle Nunavut governance will not listen. It is their agenda in force in Nunavut today.

    What a bunch of duped patsies we are – many of us have bought into their ideology hook, line and sinker. So much so it is only the pro-development people who actually want to get something done that can see and speak the truth, and then get hammered for it.

    Time to purge the preservationists and get something in place that really works for people and caribou.

  7. Posted by and the Inuit orgs? on

    Where do NTI and regional Inuit orgs stand anyway? One of the most significant parts of the land claims agreement is the creation of the Institute of public systems (NWB, NIRB, NWMB, NSRT & NPC). Providing representation, a voice for Nunavutmiut & the recognition of a traditional lifestyle that needs protection. The Inuit orgs should instinctively know a blanket protection method is best for a lifestyle & animals requiring vast amount of space to thrive & survive, even Setterington knows this. But, he can’t admit it because of the people writing his pay cheques. The Inuit org staff on the other hand should be jumping at the chance to refute articles such as this, instead pretend to play politics give-in for handouts, crumbs from the dinner tables of the govt. By the way, Mike Setterington is a bird expert, he is not a caribou biologist.

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