Caribou Numbers in the NWT — The Outfitter’s Battle

John Andre. 2007. Caribou Numbers in the NWT — The Outfitter’s Battle (PowerPoint presentation). Shoshone Wilderness Adventures, Lac de Gras, Northwest Territories, CA.

John Andre is majority stockholder in two Canadian corporations, Qaivvik, Ltd. and Caribou Pass Outfitters, Ltd.

Full PowerPoint presentation [here] (2.44MB)

Selected excerpts:

The caribou have been hunted for tens of thousands of years by the aboriginal peoples of the north. The health of the caribou herds is sacred to them, it is part of their very being.  Generation after generation followed the caribou, or waited for them to come. They understood the movements of the great herds, and the cycle of feast and famine. Now, with “modern” technology, we track caribou with satellite collars, count nematodes in their  droppings,  and census them using fancy terms such as linear regression analysis and coefficient of variation. It is not an easy job, counting over a million animals, scattered over tens of thousands of square miles of wilderness. This presentation is not meant to degrade, in any way, the efforts of some of the wildlife biologists that have worked hard over the last 60 years, risking their lives in an unforgiving environment, with limited budgets and manpower, to study and better understand the caribou.

The Problems Begin

In late 2005, the government split the former RWED into ENR (Environment & Natural Resources) and ITI (Industry, Tourism, and Investment.) It may or may not be a coincidence, but this is when problems with the government began.

In May of 2006, we were abruptly told that we had to stop selling caribou hunts for that year; that the caribou numbers had dropped significantly. This cost the industry three months of sales, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The question is, if the next survey hadn’t been done yet, how did the government know for sure the herds were down? Was the outcome preconceived?

In June of 2006, the Bathurst herd was surveyed, and was down to 128,000 caribou. Minister  Miltenberger, of the ENR , told the outfitting industry that they were cutting our tag quotas back to the pre-2000 level of 132 tags, for the 2007 season. At the same time, resident hunters were reduced from 5 tags to 2 tags, and bulls only. (The harvest of mature bulls has consistently been shown to have zero effect on overall ungulate population growth.)  The outfitting industry, although not necessarily agreeing with their numbers or science, wanted to do their part to help the caribou, and so we accepted this slashing of our industry by nearly 30%.

The fact is, we hadn’t looked at the numbers carefully enough.



The Bathurst Caribou in Decline: What the ENR is Telling the Public

The Bathurst herd has declined 5% every year since 1986, from 476,000, down to 128,000. ENR Deputy Minister Bob Bailey, January 11, 2024 Press Release

In order to understand how the ENR is manipulating the figures, we need some background information and to establish consistent definitions. In 1986 There were four “herds” of mainland caribou.

1. Bluenose Caribou
2. Bathurst Caribou
3. Beverly Caribou
4. Qamanirjuaq Caribou

Biologists have argued over the years how many caribou herds there really are. 1n 1954 we had 16 herds. There were four in 1986. At the present time, the ENR says we have 7 herds.

1. Cape Bathurst Caribou
2. Bluenose West Caribou
3. Bluenose East Caribou
4. Bathurst Caribou
5. Ahiak Caribou
6. Beverly Caribou
7. Qamanirjuaq Caribou

Aboriginal knowledge tells us there is one great herd of caribou.

How do Four Become Seven?

In the late 1990s,  the ENR did not magically find three more herds of caribou. They simply carved the Bluenose Herd and the Bathurst Herd up, for study purposes, into five herds instead of two, based on theoretical calving grounds. (It is not a big deal, until you start using calving ground definitions for management purposes. More on that later)

The “creation” of the Ahiak herd was clearly the separation of caribou out of the traditional Bathurst caribou calving ground and overall annual range. It was not simply the renaming of the Queen Maud Gulf herd. In 1986 the Queen Maud Gulf herd, which had always been thought of as a rather obscure, relatively unstudied herd, had a population of 10,000. In 1996, when the Ahiak Herd was “created” it had a population of 200,000. 190,000 of these caribou were carved out of the Bathurst Caribou Herd. A study of the following maps, of both the calving ground overlap, and the annual rutting and winter ranges, clearly demonstrates this.

Formula for converting the “new” (Year 2000) Bathurst Herd to conform with the “old” (Year 1986) definition, so that we can compare “Apples to Apples.”

Old Bathurst Herd = New Bathurst  Herd + Ahiak Herd - old Queen Maud Gulf Herd + .5 Bluenose East Herd

In order to compare the 2006 Bathurst Herd’s  current size with any of the pre-2000 surveys of the “Old Bathurst Herd”,  we simply plug in the ENRs numbers into the formula.

128,000 (2006 Bathurst Herd) plus 200,000 (Ahiak Herd) less 10,000 (old Queen Maud Gulf Herd) plus .5 x 66,000(Bluenose Herd East) equals 351,000.

Now that we have our definitions straight, we can examine their numbers a little more closely.

476,000 Caribou in 1986

This is arguably the most important caribou number ever produced by the ENR.

It is a number that is being used to destroy people’s lives, and businesses, and to ruin a segment of the Tourism Industry that has been supported by thousands of taxpayer dollars for nearly a quarter of a century. Let’s look at it a little more carefully, since it’s such an important number.

Here is what Dr. Ray Case of the ENR said in 1996 about the 1986 survey (from The Status and Management of the Bathurst Caribou Herd, Northwest Territories, Canada, Ray Case, Laurie Buckland, Mark Williams, RWED, GNWT, 1996).

The very large increase (280%) in Bathurst herd size observed between 1982 (174,000) and 1986 (486,000) was likely due to a combination of increased recruitment and immigration. It is possible that caribou from the Queen Maud Gulf area (northeast Mainland Herd), where caribou inhabit the tundra year-round, may have been included in the Bathurst calving ground survey. Such changes may represent real growth to an individual herd, however managers and resource users must recognize that the immigration of animals from one herd will result in the reduction of the size of an adjacent herd.

Here is what Doug Heard of the ENR said in 1992 about the 1986 survey (from Herd Identity and Calving Ground Fidelity of Caribou in the Keewatin District of the Northwest Territories. Douglas C. Heard and Gordon Stenhouse, RWED, 1992)

The interpretation of calving ground estimates is based on the assumption that all cows in the herd return to the same area every year to calve. That assumption has never been tested in the Northwest Territories. Heard and Calef suggested that recent increases in the Kaminuriak and Bathurst herds may have been due to massive immigration.

The 1986 Bathurst Caribou Survey (476,000 caribou) is the entire basis for the ENR’s “Crashing Caribou Theory.”

The Government of the Northwest Territories freely admits that this is a flawed survey, a survey where two herds have gotten together. It is simply not biologically possible for the herd to have grown from 174,000 to 476,000 in four years, given anywhere near normal annual predation and other mortality rates.

From 1977 to 1982, the Bathurst Herd was surveyed 5 times in 6 years. The numbers ranged from 110,000 to 174,000, with an average of 142,200. A solid number, based on five surveys in six years. A number that would help average out the problems with aerial calving ground surveys, such as poor weather, caribou failing to aggregate on the calving grounds, observer bias, etc (see Surveys of the Beverly Caribou Calving Grounds 1957-1994, pages 18-23 , Ann Gunn, 1997) for more details on caribou calving ground problems. A number with which most scientists could agree would be a solid starting point for comparison purposes.

But there was a problem with using the above number.

It didn’t fit the agenda.

The Caribou Dropping 5% a year from 1986 to 2006. Why has the government taken 20 years to react to this? Because someone in the department had the brains to see that it was an absurd conclusion, one that would never hold up under public, let alone scientific scrutiny. Here is what various biologists said and the government did over the past twenty years, while the Bathurst Herd “plummeted” You can either draw one of two conclusions. Either the ENR has been misinforming us for twenty years, or they are misinforming us now. Were they fiddling while Rome was burning for the last two decades, two decades where the government spent millions of dollars surveying caribou and helping get the outfitting industry off the ground, or are they fiddling with the numbers now, to accomplish an agenda.

Since Outfitters and Residents can harvest only bulls, the question arises, to which herd does a bull belong??

1. Most bulls don’t return to the calving grounds, since they have already done their job (See Biology 101). So how does the ENR propose we assign them to one of seven “herds”.

2. Does a bull belong to the herd they calved in? Since they don’t collar bulls, ENR has no clue as to their actual range.

3. Does a bull belong to the last cow they mated with? She might hope so, but He might have other ideas.

4. If a bull mates with cows from different herds, is the bull being unfaithful or are the cows being unfaithful?

The point here is, assigning caribou in the harvesting areas to a specific herd based on calving grounds is an impossibility. Now do you understand why the aboriginals always insist on the inclusion of aboriginal knowledge?

Wolves – A General Discussion

Wolves are the number one cause of calf mortality in the caribou herds. ENR biologist Ann Gunn stated that 60-80 percent of calf mortality (of calves born alive) was due to wolf predation. There is plenty of wolf science out there, along with wolf population estimates, but none of it is that great. I think most scientists could agree that wolves eat 25-35 caribou a year, some say as many as the biomass equivalent of 60. Wolf population estimates in the NWT run from 1500 to 10,000. Taking a low number, say 2000, this gives us a wolf predation range of between 50,000 and 70,000. This does not, of course, count caribou killed and not eaten, a phenomenon that is well documented. Looking at the higher range, wolves could be taking upwards of 250,000 a year. The truth is, scientists just don’t know. What we do have is significant anecdotal evidence of wolf predation and its affect on caribou herds. Int the 1980s, the State of Alaska stopped aerial gunning for wolves. By the 1990s, caribou and moose populations had plummeted. Similarly, wolf controls in British Columbia were ended, and the Mountain Caribou population crashed. Here in the Northwest Territories, there was a significant wolf harvest in 1980. (See following chart), and from that point to 2006, the caribou flourished. If the government caribou population trends start to show loss of calf recruitment, than increased wolf harvesting should be, in our opinion, the primary management tool used to reverse that trend. With overall hunter harvest of 5700, according to the ENR, and wolf harvest between 50,000 and 250,000, the most beneficial management action for the caribou is fairly obvious.

Please remember one thing. The outfitters are the ones who have to tell our employees, with children, and bills to pay, and mortgages, and dreams, that they no longer have a job. And we have to answer to millions of sportsmen around the globe, that will want to know how we could let the beautifully vast barren-lands of the Northwest Territories be closed to them forever.

So Why is All  of This Happening?

The following news article appeared on January 16, 2024 on CBC News.

CBC Headlines: “Proposed pipeline poses threat to caribou: biologists”, January 16, 2024

Wildlife managers need to figure out how to protect declining caribou herds if the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas project goes ahead, the Joint Review Panel was told during a hearing in Inuvik Monday.

The proposed 1,200-kilometre pipeline, which would carry gas from the Beaufort Delta region to northern Alberta, would cut through the middle of the Cape Bathurst caribou herd’s range. Its population has dropped from 17,500 in 1992 to 1,800 in 2006.

N.W.T. government biologist John Nagy says the latest information on the herd is not promising.

“The small number of calves in early July indicates that few yearlings will be recruited to the Cape Bathurst herd in 2007,” he told the panel. “This suggests that a further decline in the Cape Bathurst [herd] can be anticipated.”

The government recommends Imperial Oil, the lead partner in the pipeline project, monitor the herds and develop a management plan.

The Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board wants the plan to be sensitive to the declining populations, said its biologist, Catherine Lambert Koizumi.

“Could one of the mitigation actions be to make sure that this population doesn’t go under specific minimum, viable population size or make sure there’s a recovery plan in place before the project starts?” she said.

Territorial government spokesman Ray Case said climate change is probably the cause of the drop in caribou numbers, so any plan should focus on limiting the impact caused by the pipeline project.

and this:

Greenpeace Website

London. “Canadian scientist Dr. Ann Gunn has reported a dramatic 95 per cent decline in the Peary caribou population, and the die-off may be the beginning of a vast Arctic wildlife decline driven by rising temperatures and precipitation. Peary caribou are a High Arctic subspecies of caribou whose range is limited to a few Arctic islands. “

Greenpeace climate impacts expert Kevin Jardine said: “The best explanation for the Peary caribou decline is starvation because a deeper snow pack has prevented the animals from reaching their crucial winter food supply. The Peary Caribou decline is the first of a major Arctic wildlife population that appears to be related to global climate change.”

“The Porcupine caribou herd, as well as being vulnerable to the changes in the Arctic climate, are also threatened by the prospect of expanding oil and gas development spreading east and north from the huge Prudhoe Bay oil complex on Alaska’s North Slope. The burning of fossil fuels - oil, coal and gas - is the major factor driving climate change.”

I believe Greenpeace is trying to prove the eminent  demise of the caribou, due to Global Warming, in order to stop the Outfitting Industry, Exxon’s Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and probably the Diamond Mines, both current and future, as well.

The above explains the dividing of two main herds in the west (the Bluenose and Bathurst Herds), because these herds fall directly in the area with the most mining and pipeline activity. If you’ll notice, they haven’t divided the two (currently) largest herds, the Beverly and the Qamanirjuaq herds, which are not in the path of as much “development.”

The above also explains why the ENR has been in such a big hurry to eliminate the Hunting Outfitters. Having just won a victory with Polar Bears, they want to carry that momentum on with the caribou. The Caribou, which is what the political power, the First Nation groups care most about, is Greenpeace’s Spotted Owl. And with only four herds, they could never prove any of them “endangered” And so they created seven. And their plan is working.

This presentation is the position and opinions of John Andre, majority stockholder in two Canadian corporations, Qaivvik, Ltd. and Caribou Pass Outfitters, Ltd. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Barren-ground Outfitters Association. Anyone who receives this document may feel free to share it with whomever they please, regardless of whether or not they may agree or disagree with its findings. Anyone who would like to discuss the findings, please feel free to call me at anytime at (406) 375-8400 or e-mail me  at john@shoshonewilderness.com. We welcome open and frank discussions.

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