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Hunting of declining Canadian caribou herd raises concern

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

New tensions are surfacing in Labrador, Canada over reports that animals in a fragile caribou herd were hunted just days after an aboriginal summit focused on protecting its future. Sources said dozens of George River caribou were recently killed by Innu hunters in the Border Beacon area in northwestern Labrador.

The hunt happened just days after a meeting in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, to talk about the declining herd, the population of which has fallen more than 90 percent about a decade.

While the Innu Nation has not unveiled a conservation policy about the herd, the Inuit government in Nunatsiavut and the Inuit-Metis group NunatuKavut have both asked their members to abstain from hunting the George River herd for two years.

There have also been calls for non-aboriginal hunters to stay clear of the herd, which had about 27,000 animals in a census reported last summer. Officials believe there are now fewer than 25,000 animals in the herd.

Hollis Yetman, vice president of the Labrador Hunting and Fishing Association, said he feels that the Innu are not agreeing with other aboriginal groups about a hunting ban.

"I think they agreed at the meeting that they would discuss a management plan and come back to the table in six to eight weeks," said Yetman.

"Well, everyone knows in this part of the world that [in] six to eight weeks, spring is here and there's a lot of caribou that can be killed in the next six to eight weeks."

Torngat Mountains' Randy Edmunds says the Innu hunt is troubling some people in Nunatsiavut.

"People are saying, 'Why should we be restricted when other groups are hunting caribou?' But the one thing all groups share in terms of concern is that the numbers aren't what they used to be."

The George River herd had about 385,000 animals in 2001, and nearly 800,000 in the late 1980s.

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