While Kitikmeot hunters eagerly await a decision from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board on whether an interim total allowable harvest of 42 Dolphin and Union caribou should be upheld, the Government of Nunavut’s recent aerial population survey of the herd is getting a rave review.

The total survey coverage area was 136,889 square km over Victoria Island, much more vast than the originally proposed 40,924 square km to be overflown and observed.

The Dolphin and Union caribou herd’s range is highlighted in purple, showing the ungulates’ migration areas on Victoria Island and on the mainland to the south.
images courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Surveying the entirety of Victoria Island would have been optimal, said Bobby Greenley, chair of the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization, but he is pleased with the efforts made during the late October/early November assessment.

“It was done really well,” said Greenley, who announced his resignation as HTO chair later in the week.

“The whole island would have been the best thing but with the time frame and the cost of everything … if they got stormed out one or two days then the whole survey would have been buggered up.”

The herd was estimated at 34,500 animals in 1997 but that figure crashed to just 4,100 caribou in 2018. As a result of the collapse, the Government of Nunavut that imposed the 42 caribou harvest limit in early September, which was met with initial disappointment from the Ekaluktutiak HTO due to a lack of consultation.

Land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) passed a resolution at its annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay in October that calls upon the GN to double the total allowable harvest to two per cent of the herd. NTI also deemed the 2018 survey to be “flawed” and implored the GN to improve its consultation process with Inuit associations and organizations.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) held a video-conference a few weeks ago but no recommendation on the total allowable harvest has come since, Greenley said.

This graph shows how the Dolphin and Union caribou population has plummeted from an estimated 34,500 animals in 1997 to 4,100 in 2018. This has led to a temporary total allowable harvest of just 42 caribou from the herd.

The NWMB did not respond to Nunavut News’ request for comment prior to press deadline.

The board’s recommendation will go back to the Department of Environment for consideration.

Conclusions reached from the Dolphin and Union population survey conducted several weeks ago may be delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, a Department of Environment spokesperson stated. An estimated timeline for the release of survey results has not been provided.

When available, the results will be shared with affected communities and co-management partners before it is shared publicly, according to the Department of Environment.

Greenley noted that wolves and other animals were counted in addition to caribou during the survey.

“We know the caribou herd is declining,” Greenley said. “The TAH (total allowable harvest limit) being put on really quick was kind of shocking. We knew it was going to happen but not this suddenly, like bang, here’s a letter, that’s all you’re getting. So I’m glad they did the survey and they did it very well. They did an awesome job. Everybody in the community has been really supportive of what’s been going on. It’s difficult for everybody, but everybody is following the rules.”

In a July 28 letter to the GN, the NWMB acknowledged that the 2018 population survey and a traditional knowledge survey in conjunction with researchers from the University of Calgary reveal that the Dolphin and Union herd “has declined severely over the last 20 years and there is no sign of a rapid recovery.”

In terms of restoring the herd’s health, Greenley noted that local Elders have spoken of the rise and fall of caribou numbers over several decades, which seems to be a natural cycle. He added that efforts are being made to reduce the wolf population since they prey on caribou. Impacts from muskoxen and a booming number of snow geese, which tear up the ground and the caribou’s food source, are also being monitored.

The HTO is also relying on technology such as setting up cameras to study wildlife and sending samples from caribou for scientific analyses, Greenley said.

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