Mr. Speaker, caribou are central to our communities, as a food source and as part of the local culture and way of life.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, our caribou herds are struggling. In particular, the Bathurst and Bluenose-East herds have suffered serious declines in recent years.
The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to supporting our caribou through this period of decline. Today, I am here to highlight some of the actions the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is leading in our government’s efforts to manage human impacts on the Bathurst caribou herd.
Mr. Speaker, five years ago, the Government of the Northwest Territories, together with Indigenous governments and organizations, and the Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board, made the difficult decision to close the Bathurst caribou harvest.
As a result of this decision, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources set up a no-harvest zone around the Bathurst caribou, known as the mobile zone. The boundaries of this zone change every week, based on the location of collared caribou. This is how we make sure the caribou are protected.
It is illegal to hunt caribou in this zone, Mr. Speaker. Officers monitor the area by ground and by air throughout the winter. We have two check stations at Gordon and McKay Lake that are staffed 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. Local community members also assist Environment and Natural Resources with harvest monitoring.
It is important that all hunters going out on the land know where this zone is. Maps with the current mobile zone are posted on Environment and Natural Resource’s website and Facebook page, on the winter roads and in our communities.
Mr. Speaker, the people of the Northwest Territories take caribou conservation very seriously. We continue to work with our co-management partners to communicate the importance of this zone for protecting Bathurst caribou. It is up to each and every one of us to do our part to promote this herd’s recovery.
Last August, the Government of the Northwest Territories released the Bathurst Caribou Range Plan.
This plan guides decision-makers, developers and communities, to help manage activities on the land in a way that supports the recovery of the Bathurst herd.
Our Government is now working to set this plan into motion. This includes sitting down with our Indigenous partners to identify important habitat for Bathurst caribou, such as key land and water crossings and areas of unburned forest.
I am also pleased to report on our efforts to expand on-the-land programs to monitor Bathurst caribou. Last month a workshop with Indigenous groups from across the range of the Bathurst herd was held to further develop a Bathurst Caribou Guardianship Initiative, which included representatives from Nunavut. The workshop brought in members of the Hamayas (ha-MY-us) Stewardship Network from the Queen Charlotte Islands to share their knowledge and experiences as Guardians on their traditional lands.
Mr. Speaker, traditional knowledge tells us caribou have always experienced periods of highs and lows. The current population estimate for the Bathurst herd is the lowest it has ever been, that we know of. It is up to all of us to support our caribou herds through this current low, towards recovery.
ENR has heard from communities and wildlife co-management partners that all management actions need to be considered including wolf management. Environment and Natural Resources and the Tłı̨chǫ Government developed a Wolf Management Proposal based on the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge. It includes management actions for wolves on the winter range of the Bathurst and Bluenose-East herds as a way to promote the recovery of these barren-ground caribou herds and support the traditional economy.
The next population survey for Bathurst caribou is just a few months away, in June, and results will be available in the late fall.
Together with local and traditional knowledge, these survey results will inform our actions going forward, to manage and protect barren-ground caribou.
By applying the best available knowledge together with our co-management partners, we can help support healthy caribou populations for future generations of Northerners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker