YELLOWKNIFE - Protecting NWT caribou was front-and-centre at the legislative assembly Monday as regular members voted in favour of a motion acknowledging NWT caribou populations were in "dramatic decline" and urged the government to adhere to the "spirit and intent" of self-government agreements with respect to wildlife management.
As the territorial government faces a judicial review of its caribou numbers and We'keezhii Renewable Resource Board hearings on Environment and Natural Resources's Bathurst caribou management recommendations were to start Tuesday, the non-binding resolution could be viewed as a symbolic gesture of support for the government by regular MLAs.
"We should not hold back from taking strong and potentially even excessive steps... to protect the caribou herds we know are under threat today," said Great Slave MLA Bill Braden, who along with Nunakput MLA Calvin Pokiak, introduced the motion.
While the motion's language spoke to the significance of protecting the caribou and endorsed recommendations of the January Caribou Summit in Inuvik, it was an about-face of sorts for the Great Slave member. In previous sessions Braden has questioned ENR numbers used as justification for huge reductions in sport hunting tag limits that he has contended, "Could eliminate this business overnight."
Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen abstained after her attempt to strike the clause "whereas the caribou populations of the NWT have been found to be in dramatic decline" was defeated.
Dave Ramsay, Kam Lake MLA, briefly supported Groenewegen's amendment before eventually voting in support of the motion as it was introduced.
"Right or wrong, this is the crux of the argument either way in the judicial review that is currently underway. Why would we include it in the motion at this time?" he asked while arguing Groenewegen's point.
"The numbers are debatable... There are pressures on the caribou. Their numbers may or may not be declining (and) I think we owe it to the people who live here in the Northwest Territories who harvest the caribou to find out what the numbers are. So let's do that."
On Feb. 9, ENR Minister Michael McLeod, who attended the Caribou Summit in Inuvik, told the assembly of "key actions" summit delegates concluded were necessary to protect NWT caribou herds. These included: reducing harvests; bringing traditional knowledge into decision-making; develop management plans for each herd, hold an aboriginal conference for harvesters, develop a harvest code of conduct and hold regional harvester conferences.
Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee abstained from the vote, citing her concerns about jeopardizing the judicial review, in which the government's position on caribou population numbers and management strategies face a legal challenge by two big game outfitters.
"Respect for the separate independence of this legislature to make decisions and the court to make their own decisions, and for the We'keezhii board and any other institutions and duly authorized bodies to make decisions independently... I feel I must abstain," she said.