‘Irresponsible’ Nunavut government softens protection of vital caribou herds, angering Inuit groups
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press
IQALUIT, Nunavut — Inuit groups and environmentalists have accused Nunavut of softening its protection of vital Arctic caribou herds by saying it will consider industrial development on sensitive calving grounds.
They’re angry the change was made without consultation and only came to light during hearings on a land use plan for the territory.
“The (Kivalliq Wildlife Board) believes that the (government of Nunavut) has made a very irresponsible decision,” said a letter to the government from the regulatory agency, which represents hunters in the central tundra and was created by the Nunavut land claim.
“This is an incredibly important issue and one surely worthy of proper consultation and public discussion. This discussion did not take place.”
The board representing hunters in the Arctic islands also said calving grounds must be roped off to development.
“We do not feel that relying on protection measures alone will do the work necessary to support caribou populations,” wrote the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board.
“Inuit want the caribou grounds protected. Arguing otherwise would completely disrespect the multiple conversations Inuit have been involved in … over multiple decades.”
Similar concerns have come from the World Wildlife Fund, which said it was “disappointed” in the territory’s decision.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of caribou to people in the central Arctic, who still depend on the great herds for food.
Those herds, however, are declining. The Bluenose East herd, which ranges across a wide swath of territory along the boundary of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, has dropped from about 50,000 animals on the calving grounds in 2006 to fewer than 20,000 today.
Calving grounds are considered both crucial to herd health and particularly susceptible to disturbance.
Hunter groups from communities such as Baker Lake have a long history of opposing mining development in those regions, which have major deposits of minerals such as uranium. Until recently, so did the government of Nunavut.
Now, the territory says it will consider such projects after full hearings are held and mitigation measures put in place.
“The government of Nunavut supports responsible development within calving grounds and key access corridors, and these will be on a case-by-case basis,” Environment Minister Johnny Mike told the legislature Monday.
“It was very disappointing to learn the (government) changed its mind and no longer wants to protect calving grounds,” says the letter from the Kivalliq board.
The World Wildlife Fund said the “mobile protection measures” which the government suggests could be deployed are unproven.
“There is no evidence to support its effectiveness,” said the group in a release. “At a time when all the barren-ground caribou herds in Nunavut are crashing, experimenting with unproven protection measures is foolhardy.”
Nunavut — which has Canada’s highest unemployment rate at 12.3 per cent as well as the associated social problems — is desperate for economic development. The territory also has Canada’s highest birthrate and needs jobs for young people.
The draft land use plan recommends protecting calving grounds that don’t have high mineral potential and a designation requiring special mitigation measures for those that do.
The Inuit organization that monitors the Nunavut land claim is already in partnership with a Vancouver-based mining company that has a uranium deposit near Baker Lake.
As well, the hunter’s group from Kugluktuk on the central Arctic coast — where several gold projects are contemplated — supports seasonal restrictions on development in calving grounds. A similar stance has been taken by the N.W.T.’s Tlicho government, which also depends on central Arctic caribou herds.