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Dempster hunting closure debated

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Fort McPherson (Oct 08/01) - Delegates at the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board meeting heard differing opinions late last month regarding the one-week closure of the Dempster Highway to caribou hunting during the fall migration.

Some people questioned the effectiveness of the voluntary one-week closure, while others wondered if a closure was necessary at all.

The local officer for the territorial Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development must wait until about 200 caribou cross the highway before he can issue the hunting closure.

Johnnie Charlie, a renewable resource officer for RWED in Fort McPherson, said he would prefer if people weren't allowed to hunt any of the first caribou that cross. But to close the hunting down too early might mean that the ban would expire before the main herd leaders have had the chance to cross.

At the meeting, he questioned if a one-week restriction was sufficient. "I think it would be better to close it all summer, until the first bunch of caribou cross, and then open it." He said hunters are out right now already taking down some of the first caribou to cross the highway. "It's affecting the leaders," he said.

Robert Alexie Sr. said he could foresee a day when there will have to be a ban on trucks. "Trucks is the big problem on the highway.

"Caribous are scared of trucks," he told the board.

While some spoke of the need for more conservation, Bertha Francis, 61, said she thinks public education should be sufficient.

"The good Lord put these caribou on earth for us. If he put it there for us, they're going to be there forever. Why do white man think (the caribou) are going to run out? There's going to be caribou until the end of this world."

Tim Devine, RWED's manager of fish and wildlife in Inuvik, said the hunting policy is constantly under review, and that the comments gathered at the meeting would be taken into consideration.

This winter, the governments of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories will meet to review their respective closure policies. In the Yukon, a mandatory hunting closure is being enforced for the first time this year.

In the NWT, the one-week hunting closure is not yet legislated. That means hunters are being asked to comply, but there are no penalties if they don't. The voluntary measure, now in its second year, was instituted to reduce the disturbance to caribou migrating from north to south across the highway.

In previous years, hunters waiting along the highway had unwittingly pressed the caribou into changing their migration route further north, and out of the Gwich'in Settlement Area.

It is believed that the main herd leaders follow the "pre-leaders," a pack of roughly 200 animals that are usually the first to cross the Dempster Highway.