The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), Shane Thompson, together with Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie, Łutsel Kʼe Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe, and other Indigenous regional leaders, issued a joint statement today to reinforce the need for responsible harvesting of caribou in this time of rapid herd decline:
ENR officers determined that more than 80 caribou were killed illegally within the Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Management Zone over the past two weeks.
Wasted meat and parts from 12 more caribou were also discovered outside the zone last weekend.
“Working together, the decision was made to close the harvest of Bathurst caribou and put in place a mobile no-hunting zone to protect the herd,” said the leaders. “Hunters should not be harvesting in this zone, given the fragile state of the Bathurst herd.”
“It is also disappointing to see animals being wasted in this way. This behaviour is not only disrespectful—it is illegal.”
The Bathurst caribou herd has declined by 98 per cent since 1986. Only 8,200 caribou remain. The Mobile Zone was put in place in 2015 to protect the herd. No hunting is allowed inside this zone.
ENR officers seized meat and issued tickets to hunters caught over the weekend. Prior to March 21, there had only been one case of harvesting in the mobile zone this winter.
Leaders also expressed concern about the health and safety of hunters. People across the Northwest Territories are currently being asked to practice social distancing and avoid close contact to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This virus is especially dangerous for elders in small and isolated communities.
Over the weekend, hunters along the winter road were observed travelling and gathering and visiting in groups. This behaviour goes against the advice of the Chief Public Health Officer, who supports people going out on the land, but only with their immediate family or people they live with.
“We understand this is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone,” said Minister Thompson. “It is up to all of us to ensure we are making good decisions to protect the health and safety of our communities and the future of our caribou. There are other animals that can be legally harvested at this time, including moose, muskox, fish, small game and other caribou herds. We encourage people to look at other options, and to harvest other animals respectfully and sustainably.”
ENR will continue to actively monitor the Mobile Zone through daily air and ground patrols and enforce the no-hunting rule to protect the Bathurst caribou herd.