By Dannielle Piper
Read the article on CBC.ca
Photo credit: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press.
Since the 1990s, some caribou populations in Canada's North have declined by as much as 98 per cent because of challenges exacerbated by climate change.
Caribou migrate seasonally for food and in order to give birth to calves. Sea ice is a means of travel for the caribou from the islands to the mainland, but it has decreased in stability over the years because of a warming climate.
"We know that sea ice is being very affected by the changing conditions," said Justina Ray, president and senior scientist of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, in an interview with What On Earth host Laura Lynch.
"And then you add to that the fact that there's more travel by shipping by boats during certain times of year, which can make the [caribou] crossover that much more precarious."
The long-awaited Nunavut Land Use Plan (NLUP), which incorporates traditional Inuit knowledge and scientific knowledge, has the potential to protect the caribou. The Nunavut Planning Commission began developing the NLUP in 2007, and after more than a decade of development, it is finally in the consultation phase. This phase allows for extensive community input, with public hearings scheduled for November. The final draft of the NLUP is expected in 2022.
On Baffin Island, the decline in caribou populations and a resulting moratorium on hunting caribou has made it difficult for Inuit to hold onto an important piece of their culture.
Paul Quassa, a former member of the legislative assembly for Aggu in Nunavut, said Inuit rely on caribou not only for survival but also to pass down important cultural traditions. These traditions inform how the animal is used. Some parts are used for food, others for crafts and the rest for tools. In the end, nothing is wasted.
Quassa helped negotiate and sign the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in 1993, which mandated the creation of the NLUP and its proactive approach to caribou conservation in the region. He has advocated for the plan to be enacted in the legislative assembly, but after 29 years, he's still waiting.
"When we started negotiating our land claims, that was the whole purpose: to ensure that we retain our culture, which is hunting," Quassa said. "But now we're being limited in these areas that we wanted to retain."
Their way of life is being infringed upon by competing interests in mining and other development, which is why the NLUP is increasingly important.
"Climate change and how we put our protection measurements within our territory, I think, are the two most important things that we need to really watch over," Quassa said. "It's often said that forms of wildlife management are not to per se manage animals, but to manage people."
But the fear is that some of these locations will be claimed for development before the NLUP is enacted.
"I think we're setting ourselves up for a lot of conflict and a lot of missed opportunities if we continue to leave these areas open," said Brandon Laforest, senior specialist of Arctic species at World Wide Fund for Nature Canada (WWF).
"And it serves no one. It definitely doesn't serve the caribou. It doesn't serve the communities. And it actually doesn't serve the industrial [mining] development proponents, either, if they're not made aware that these areas should be off-limits."
Laforest said the NLUP is not just about protecting the caribou, but "about protecting the habitat and the habitat that they need for their calving. Inuit knowledge as well as scientific information tells us that this is the time when caribou are at their most sensitive in their yearly cycle."
The reasons for the plan's delay are multifaceted, but mainly have to do with the extensive process of land use planning in the North.
"Obtaining information on land use, hearing the views of Nunavummiut and others through extensive consultation and hearings and developing a plan that fairly balances diverse interests is not an easy task," said Megan MacLean, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, in a statement to CBC.
"With each draft of the plan, more key issues have been addressed. Following the upcoming hearings, the commission has indicated it will revise the plan, as necessary, and submit it for approval."
Ray with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada is cautious about the progress, as there has been very little action over the years. With the exception of two regional land use plans, a plan addressing the needs of the entire territory has yet to be completed.
"We're already nervous about it because the last draft was five … six years ago, without any action," said Ray.
"During that time, Nunavut [caribou] herds have suffered and there has been more interest [in developing those areas] and the threats have escalated. So it absolutely has to happen this time."
Photo credits: Banner | William Halliday © WCS Canada