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Four observers on Southampton herd

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What may prove to be the most important survey ever done on the Southampton Island caribou herd is underway this week.

NNSL photo/graphic

Biologist Mitch Campbell takes a sample during monitoring of disease within the Southampton Island caribou herd in 2010. - NNSL file photo

Once numbering about 30,000, the herd was estimated to be down to about 7,000 following a survey done this past year.

Surveys are rarely conducted in back-to-back years, but Nunavut's Department of Environment and the Coral (Aiviit) Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) want to be sure of the numbers before moving towards a total allowable harvest (TAH).

Kivalliq regional biologist Mitch Campbell said an excellent job was done on the previous survey in 2011.

He said he hopes this survey means the situation is close to receiving management action.

"Redoing the survey, in my opinion, is not the best expenditure of money, but I'm willing to do it if it gets us to the point where we can help them out," said Campbell.

"We have three guys hired from the Coral HTO and one conservation education person, Tyler Ross, on the team.

"So, we have four dedicated observers on a double-observer platform, with two data recorders.

"We're pulling out all the stops for this survey again, and maximizing the number of observers we have."

Campbell said he'd like Ross to visit Sakku School on bad weather days to start a conservation education program so everyone's clear on what's going on with the herd.

He said it's scheduled to be an eight-day survey, but weather could push that to as much as 10 to 15 days.

"I'm committed to having a draft survey estimate completed within two weeks following the survey.

"Because of the importance of this survey, they need a result before July 1.

"We've had a good working relationship with the people of Coral Harbour, and I really respect the decision they've made and the way they've dealt with the politics.

"I care a lot about the community and that caribou population, so I'm going to do the best I can for them."

Campbell said he'll keep banging his head against the wall as long it takes to resolve the issue, so people can stop being so stressed out and relax a little bit.

He said he sees the survey as a formality and doesn't expect to see changes.

"Statistically, we probably won't detect a change in the numbers between the two surveys.

"They're accurate to around 10 per cent above or below the actual mean values or estimates.

"But, if there was more harvest than we thought, we're going to see a decline and that would be a disaster.

"In fact there probably has been a decline, but there's enough room within the two estimates that we likely won't be able to say much more than the herd stayed relatively stable."

Campbell said there is some belief caribou have been walking onto the island. He said it would be very interesting if that proved to be true.

"I know that might sound a little crazy, but it is possible.

"So it's reasonable to have a look and see if what we've seen is consistent across the years.

"Once that's done and everyone is satisfied we have the best numbers we can, then, hopefully, they'll move forward with the community's request for a total allowed harvest for that population."

Campbell said he would be very surprised if population numbers are up. He said that's the last thing he expects to find.

"You have to keep in mind there's a good population of about 50,000 to 60,000 caribou around the Repulse Bay and Lion Inlet area.

"They seem to be doing fine there, but there shouldn't be any reason for those animals to walk onto Southampton Island.

"But, caribou move, so you have to keep in mind every possibility.

"It's not likely, though, because I haven't seen a mass movement on or off the island since we've been studying it, so why it would happen right now would be quite interesting."

Campbell said there's very little distrust concerning the 2011 survey numbers.

He said a few people in Coral who were exporting caribou meat have said they don't trust the numbers, but, basically, everyone else does.

"They want a survey because they hope we'll be able to see a decline based on the export to support the TAH.

"If the export was bigger than we were calculating, maybe we can show everyone the impact that had on the population.

"You've got the exporters saying they're not having any impact and there's lots of caribou around.

"We're in trouble if this survey shows a decline, especially if it's a significantly lower number, but I expect we'll have right around the same number as last year."

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