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NWT caribou conservation threatens Porcupine herd

Does Isaac Newton’s third law of physics — “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” — apply to caribou?The…

Does Isaac Newton’s third law of physics — “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” — apply to caribou?

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation believes so.

Which is why it is worried about the future of its subsistence lifestyle following a recent decision by the Northwest Territories government to curb hunting of its barren-ground caribou.

Earlier this month, the NWT released a management strategy for all caribou that migrate through its territory.

“Evidence from traditional and scientific sources show that barren-ground caribou herds are declining,” NWT Environment and Natural Resources minister Michael Miltenberger said in a release.

“Given this trend, the government of the Northwest Territories, along with co-management boards and harvesters must act in the best interests of conserving our barren-ground populations.”

The NWT government is planning several immediate initiatives over the next six months, including reducing the number of caribou tags for resident harvesters from five to two, and restricting the hunt to bulls only.

It’s a five-year strategy.

NWT First Nations are not pleased, and claim the strategy unfairly restricts their way of life.

“This is not our strategy, we were not consulted. Why should we accept it?” Noeline Villebrun, the Dene Nation national chief, said in a release.

“We were not participants in the drafting of these proposed documents and consider the tabled documents null and void.”

The new restrictions apply to the Bluenose West herd, which the Inuvialuit hunt for food and profit.

And this could have ramifications for the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates through the north Yukon between the NWT and Alaska.

Faced with hunting restrictions on the Bluenose West herd, the Inuvialuit may start hunting the Porcupine herd, said Vuntut Gwitchin chief Joe Linklater.

The Inuvialuit’s final agreement with Ottawa produced a management agreement for the Porcupine herd that gives its members hunting rights, Linklater said Tuesday.

“In the wintertime, the (Porcupine) herd will congregate in various areas throughout the range,” he said.

“A lot of people think they head to the Ogilvie (Mountains) and that’s where they stay. No.

“We’ve had caribou up at the Crow Flats area this winter. It is totally possible that they would drift over toward Inuvik and Aklavik and hang around there for certain parts of the winter.

“That’s when they’re within the range of the Inuvialuit.”

An agreement possibly dating back to the 1960s gave the Inuvialuit the right to sell the meat from the Bluenose West herd, said Linklater.

“That probably had something to do with its drastic reduction.

“So if they are going to cut off that source, the Inuvialuit have a right to hunt the Porcupine herd, although they’re not allowed to sell the meat.

“Still, there is increased pressure and the concern for poaching comes up, because you’re basically cutting off somebody’s ability to make money.

“If they want to supplement that somewhere else, our concern is that we’re going to have to keep a closer eye on the Porcupine herd and make sure nobody is doing that with this herd.

“There will be more pressure on the herd for subsistence as well.

“We’re pretty concerned about the numbers anyway. The (Porcupine) herd has been in decline for about 10 years.”

There are other threats to the 123,000 animals of the Porcupine herd, most notably the intention to drill for oil in their calving grounds on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The US Senate voted last week to allow drilling in the sensitive area.

Ken Hudson of the Metis Council in Fort Smith, NWT, said Ottawa is planning to count the numbers of all the caribou herds in Canada this spring.

Counting a single herd costs about $500,000, said Hudson.