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Bluenose-East caribou population declining

Bluenose-East caribou numbers have declined to the point that it has received a new designation denoting its low population.

The Bluenose East herd was last surveyed in 2015, prior to the 2017 action plans, so current declining estimate is based on observations by hunters and researchers. photo courtesy of Mike Robbins

The change in status came during the Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management meeting Nov. 19-21 at the Inuvik Community Corporation.

The Bluenose-East habitat range includes areas around Kugluktuk.

Hosted by the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board and the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, the annual meeting allows different hunters and trappers committees, territorial and national parks officials, biologists and elders to compare notes on the state of the caribou and the overall ecology of the region.

Representatives of the regions of Wek’èezhı̀i, Sahtú Settlement Area and Kitikmeot region of Nunavut all agreed the Bluenose-East caribou herd was in decline, while Sahtú Settlement Area and Inuvialuit representatives observed the Bluenose-West seemed to be growing.

"Community members in both the Inuvialuit and Sahtú observed more calves than in previous years, suggesting that the population may be moving towards a yellow status but for the moment the ACCWM decided to use the precautionary principle and maintain the previous year’s status designation," reads the Bluenose-West 2019 Action Plan. "This decision recognizes that the herd size appears to be stable and that ongoing conservation actions are needed to help the Bluenose-West herd recover."

Both herds were last surveyed in 2015, prior to the 2017 action plans, so current estimates were based on observations by hunters and researchers. However, in the Bluenose-East's case, much of those observations were noticing the herds were not where they normally are. The 2019 action plan notes the difficulty in communities reaching the herds and the precautionary principle led to the downgrade to red status.

The body condition was generally improving in both Bluenose herds, with hunters not finding any major signs of disease or malnutrition. Predator populations were also observed as abundant in southern ranges, with representatives from several areas suggesting an increase in predator control, in particular with wolves and grizzly bears, may be in order.

Information shared in the meeting will feed back into the ACCWM's Taking Care of Caribou wildlife management plan, which was first put together in 2014. The ACCWM itself was established in 2008 and will update its Memorandum of Understanding in 2021.

A press release from the ACCWM said the meeting went in-camera on it's last day "to discuss herd status and associated management actions for each of the herds in 2020/21. The ACCWM will finalize an action plan for each herd based on information provided at the meeting and submit the action plans to each Member Board of the ACCWM for their review and approval.

"Following formal approval by the Member Boards, action plans for the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East herds will be submitted to governments for implementation."

-by Eric Bowling