The decline of the woodland caribou is everyone’s responsibility, says Grand Council

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The Grand Council of the Crees (GCC) is calling on every member of the Cree Nation to do their part to protect a dwindling herd of woodland caribou.

In a recently adopted resolution, the GCC condemned caribou hunting in Eeyou Istchee by Indigenous non-JBNQA beneficiaries. It asks Cree, Naskapi and Inuit hunters to stop serving as their guides.

“Right now, we won’t even be meeting our guaranteed level of harvest,” said Nadia Saganash, Wildlife Management Administrator for the GCC. “In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of Indigenous hunters from other territories hunting in Eeyou Istchee, many of whom are accompanied by Eeyou Cree guides. It’s a disturbing precedent that’s been set. We need to draw a line here and have some control.”

However, Saganash admits that it’s difficult to say how pervasive the problem is given the limited number of game wardens.

A Grand Council statement accompanying the resolution goes on to ask that JBNQA beneficiaries conduct their hunts “only for personal sustenance needs and no wasting or selling should occur.”

“We’re not asking that JBNQA beneficiaries stop hunting caribou all together,” assured Saganash. “We do ask people be prudent and conservative in their harvesting of the caribou.”

The resolution is only the most recent development in the years-long caribou preservation saga.

In 2011, the Leaf River caribou herd’s population was estimated to be as high as a 430,000. By the summer of 2016, it had decreased by more than half. In the 1980s and 1990s, the herd population may have been over 1 million, according to one GCC scientist.

Last year, Quebec announced the sport hunt of the caribou would be closing indefinitely in February 2018.

In April 2017, Quebec decided to move a Val-d’Or herd of caribou to the Saint-Félicien zoo. Environmentalists and Indigenous groups met Quebec’s unilateral decision with swift opposition, eventually causing the zoo to decline the offer for public relations reasons.

It’s not the first time the Crees have instituted a similar conservation measure in the territory.

“In the mid-1990s, the moose population was very low,” remembered Saganash. “In those times, the Cree minimized their harvest by giving themselves a quota. Of 120 moose, 40 were given to sport hunters, and the rest were divided amongst the traplines.”

Hunting is just one of the factors affecting the herd’s decline. Others include natural predators, disease, a loss of a habitat and availability of food.

While the recovery rate of the herd was positive over the past year, said Saganash, it’s unclear whether the herd will ever return to its pre-2011 numbers – but all that can be done to help the herd should be done.

“We’re a self-governing nation and we have responsibilities we cannot shy away from,” said Saganash. “It’s our duty to promote the conservation of wildlife resources and we must ensure that our harvesting activities don’t compromise our resources. The more effort we put in taking care of the herd, the better chance it has to rebound and recover.”

JBNQA beneficiaries are encouraged to report unauthorized harvesting of caribou to the S.O.S. Poaching hotline at 1-800-463-2191.

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