taking care of the caribou

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board has been working hard to protect the land the herd needs to thrive.

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board has been working hard to protect the land the herd needs to thrive.

A migrating herd needs lots of space — and the Porcupine caribou herd uses 250,000 square kilometres of northern wild land.

While this land is rich in wildlife, much of this land is also rich in oil and gas and other non renewable resources.

The management board carefully monitors proposed developments in the Canadian portion of the herd’s range.

It reviews proposals and makes recommendations to minimize the risk to the herd from the project.

Twice a year, the Yukon’s oil and gas branch asks for comments about proposed leases for oil and gas rights.

Often, the proposals involve important parts of the herd’s winter range, and the board reviews these and submits extensive comments.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board is responsible for monitoring project developments, and it solicits feedback.

The caribou management board reviews any projects that might affect the herd and makes recommendations to the assessment board.

In addition to monitoring development, the caribou management board reviews legislation, regulations and land-use plans that might affect the herd or its habitat.

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board also made suggestions about the proposed North Yukon Land Use Plan to help ensure it properly protects the Porcupine caribou herd.

Even though the Mackenzie Gas Project doesn’t directly affect the herd’s range, it received the Porcupine Caribou Management Board’s scrutiny.

The board submitted 10 pages of concerns about the potential increased traffic on the Dempster Highway impacting the herd.

When items like these come to the attention of the management board, its members work hard to ensure the herd will be affected as little as possible.

Each of the members receives the materials for review — and there are often hundreds of pages of materials for each project.

The board is comprised of members representing the governments of Canada, Yukon and Northwest Territories as well as all First Nation user groups.

The board also relies on a technical committee of experts to assist in making recommendations.

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board’s reviews and submissions are informed by a very broad group of experts with scientific and traditional knowledge of the herd and the herd’s relationship with the land.

The management board compiles the information from its members and technical experts and prepares unified, comprehensive submissions.

Once the recommendations are submitted, they are posted on the Porcupine Caribou Management Board website: http://www.taiga.net/pcmb.

The board’s submissions are often aimed at ensuring projects proceed in a way that minimizes the impact on the herd and its habitat.

Much of North Yukon and part of the NWT are important parts of the Porcupine caribous’ winter range.

The caribou are more resilient and are less likely to be disturbed on the wintering grounds compared to other parts of the range or in other seasons.

However, disturbance of the wintering grounds can be serious too.

The caribou need to be able to find ample food to be able to survive the winter and produce healthy calves in the springtime.

Activities in the winter range can affect the caribou in several ways.

Caribou might avoid a particular area; increased traffic on the Dempster Highway could increase collisions of animals and vehicles, and it can also create more highway dust that might damage the lichen and reduce the caribou’s food supply.

Increased human activity also raises the risk of wildland fires that can destroy large portions of the herd’s habitat, and increased human presence related to projects might also increase hunting pressure on the herd.

Usually, none of these effects alone amount to an overwhelming concern for the management board.

It is the cumulative effects of many projects, and the many effects of each individual project, that add up and cause concern.

And noting that the herd’s population is currently down to approximately 100,000 caribou from 178,000 caribou in 1989, the Porcupine caribou might not be as resilient as the management board would like.

Where possible, the board recommends measures to mitigate the effects of human activity in the herd’s winter range.

For example, the board might recommend small project footprints, winter-only roads instead of all-season roads to lessen the road’s impact on the habitat, and hunting restrictions on contractors and employees on the project teams.

First Nation wildlife monitors on project sites can ensure the activities don’t negatively affect animals.

In addition to managing development in the herd’s range, the board is asking all hunters to try to protect the herd and has engaged all hunters including First Nation user communities in a strategy to develop a comprehensive harvest management plan to minimize the impact of harvesting on the herd.

Long ago, after much review of traditional and scientific information, the Porcupine Caribou Management Board identified bull-only harvesting as an important conservation measure, but it is now more important than ever.

A computer population model demonstrated at a recent Harvest Management Strategy workshop showed that if a hunter shoots one bull caribou instead of a cow caribou each year for 10 years, then there will be 23 more caribou in the herd at the end of that time.

By extension, if 10 communities of 100 harvesters took a bull instead of a cow, that means 23,000 more caribou.

If all hunters shoot only bulls, they can still provide food for their families without reducing the number of caribou they take.

This will go a long way to ensuring that the herd will still be there to feed families for generations to come.

This is one item discussed at the workshop that will likely be implemented by communities as soon as possible.

If First Nation harvesters with centuries-old harvesting traditions are working to change their practices to protect the herd, then it is reasonable to ask businesses who work in the herd’s range to make genuine efforts for the sake of the herd too.

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board feels strongly that it is up to all of us — hunters and businesses — to treat the Porcupine caribou herd respectfully and responsibly.

Submitted by the Porcupine Caribou Management Board.

For more information, please contact Deana Lemke at the PCMB at 633-4780 or visit our website at www.taiga.net/pcmb.