WRRB reviews monitoring actions
February 26, 2023
The Wek'èezhìı Renewable Resources Board (WRRB) did not approve plans by the GNWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) to conduct a reconnaissance survey of the Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ (Bathurst caribou) in June 2023 during its regular Board Meeting, Feb. 8.
The territorial government conducts reconnaissance surveys to determine relative abundance and composition of ɂekwǫ on the calving ground. The surveys are part of a wider methodology of monitoring ɂekwǫ throughout the year in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ (Bathurst caribou) - the main herd of ɂekwǫ historically harvested by the Tłı̨chǫ people - is well known for having suffered the steepest decline of all barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories in recent decades. There are currently estimated to be 6,240 in the herd - down from a high of 450,000 in 1986.
The Board reviewed a wildlife research permit application from ENR to continue ongoing satellite collaring and composition surveys of the Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀, Sahtì Ekwǫ̀ (Bluenose-East caribou) and Beverly herds between May 1, 2023 and April 30, 2024.
While ENR regularly submits a wildlife research permit application every year for the collaring and composition surveys for monitoring of the herds, this year the application included a proposal for a photo survey of Sahtì Ekwǫ̀ and a reconnaissance survey for Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ this June. The WRRB maintains that the latter plan will introduce unnecessary noise disturbance by the planes flying the surveys while the ɂekwǫ are calving.
In 2019, the WRRB provided its Reasons for Decision report on a joint management proposal submitted by ENR and Tłı̨chǫ Government, in which the WRRB agreed with the how monitoring should take place. The WRRB believes that this year’s planned reconnaissance survey for the herd is contrary to that agreement. The Board reiterated those concerns in a letter to ENR Minister Shane Thompson on Feb. 13.
“Using the precautionary principle, the Board does not believe that the scientific data gained from the proposed Kǫk’èetì Ekwǫ̀ reconnaissance survey is enough to outweigh the disturbance it causes,” the letter states.
“In 2019, the WRRB agreed with ENR and recommended that reconnaissance surveys not be undertaken in years without a calving ground photo survey. Further, Tłı̨chǫ Elders have said that ɂekwǫ̀ should be left alone in times of low population.”
The letter goes on to point out that all three herds are disturbed whenever aerial surveys take place and that all surveys should be conducted in the same year so that the WRRB can get a full picture as to the status of ɂekwǫ across the landscape. Having a two to three year interval between calving ground surveys also makes it easier to detect change in the herd population between surveys.
Jan Adamczewski, Wildlife Biologist with ENR, discussed the department’s proposed monitoring plan to the Board on Feb. 8. He noted that holding the reconnaissance survey in 2023 is important because -with the use of satellite collars - it gives a better understanding of the extent to which Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ are mingling - or ‘emigrating’- east of Bathurst Inlet with the Beverly herd. Emigration -whereby Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ cows calve with the Beverly herd - contributes to the decline in Kǫ̀k’èetı̀ Ekwǫ̀ population.
“The reconnaissance survey gives us a sense of abundance and distribution, and that, in combination with collared caribou is how we get a better understanding of the likelihood of emigration and why it happens,” he said.
“We see those two things being both parts of the puzzle. The collars don’t tell us everything that the survey would.”