Hunters not to blame for dire caribou crash, says Inuit organization

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
Aaron Jansen illustration

James Eetoolook, vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik, says he doesn’t believe a caribou hunting quota system would work on south Baffin Island, and that the population will recover on its own, as it has in the past.

The caribou population of south Baffin Island is not a major concern, according to Nunavut Tunngavik (NTI), the Inuit land claims organization in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, despite new survey data that show there are few animals left in the region.

Government biologists say there could be as few as 1,000 to 2,000 animals. In the 1990s, population estimates ranged from 60,000 to 180,000.

“I don’t think we can blame hunters,” said James Eetoolook, vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik. “I think it’s more so on the climate, the vegetation on the ground that the caribou feeds on, and health might be a factor as well. So anything can be a factor that contributes to the decrease of caribou.”

Eetoolook said he doesn’t believe a hunting quota system would work on south Baffin, and that the population will recover on its own, as it has in the past. Biologists are not so sure.

“It’s premature to say right now,” said Debbie Jenkins, the Nunavut government’s caribou biologist for the Baffin region. Jenkins lead the aerial survey work last year, and wrote the newly-released report.

“I think what we really need to do right now is ensure that the caribou recover… I think the one thing that’s different now than in the past is that we have a growing human population and a lot more activity out on the caribou range,” said Jenkins.

“This report is a wake-up call,” she said.

The survey data was collected last year. It’s the first comprehensive attempt by the Nunavut government to count caribou.

The survey was supposed to continue this year, with a focus on north Baffin Island. But the results from south Baffin have prompted the government to postpone the work. Jenkins said the survey is being redesigned for next year.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.