Dolphin, Union caribou management in motion

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A management plan for Dolphin and Union Caribou herd, listed as species of special concern in the Northwest Territories, is underway as the NWT’s Conference of Management Authority reached consensus on implementing the agreement with co-management groups.

Dolphin and Union Caribou are listed as species of special concern under the NWT's Species at Risk Act. photo courtesy of Mathieu Dumond
Dolphin and Union Caribou are listed as species of special concern under the NWT’s Species at Risk Act.
photo courtesy of Mathieu Dumond

The implementation agreement governs how the Wildlife Management Advisory Council and Government of the Northwest Territories must manage the herd with its partners.

Dolphin and Union Caribou summer on Victoria Island and winter on the mainland. They are named after the straits which they cross twice a year when they travel North in their spring migration and south in the fall. The herd gathers in numbers along the shoreline, waiting for sea ice to be thick enough to cross. The sea crossing is one of the herds top vulnerabilities: accidental drowning.

Most of their annual range lies within Nunavut, but spreads into the NWT. The herd is subject to both federal and NWT species at risk legislation as well as Nunavut’s Wildlife Act, said Brett Elkin director of wildlife for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The GNWT is co-managing the herd with the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, the Inuvialuit Game Council and two communities within the range: Paultauk and Ulukhaktok.

Dolphin and Union Caribou were at “very low” numbers during the mid-20th century and only started to recover 30 years ago, said Elkin.

Population estimates from 1997 numbered the heard at more than 30,000 animals. It has declined to roughly half that size as of 2015.

The management plan is a “positive sign” of collaboration across jurisdictions, said Elkin.

While as of March 2015 the species is listed in the NWT as being of “special concern”, management groups have a responsibility to monitor and manage the herd, he said.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t have to be cautious,” said Elkin.

He added that the management plan “tells us there is a species we need to watch and take management actions to make sure it doesn’t fall into one of those more serious categories.”

The herd will be subject to another count this winter.

Climate change is a potential threat to the species because of its biannual crossing. Freeze and thaw cycles can make it difficult for the herd to access vegetation, he said.

It is also vulnerable to predation and hunting.

While only a portion of the range falls within the NWT, the GNWT is committed to research and monitoring to study factors affecting the herd.

The GNWT is also responsible for environmental assessment and land use if there were to be development on the NWT portion of the range of the Dolphin and Union herd.

“This is a species that could become at risk so we need to make sure research and monitoring and management is good so that we don’t find ourselves in that place,” said Elkin. “We’ve taken the approach that we want everyone at the table.”

The Government of Nunavut and the GNWT jointly prepared a management plan alongside the federal government and co-management partners including Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO), Ekaluktutiak HTO, Omingmaktok HTO, Burnside HTO, NWT Wildlife Management Advisory Council, Inuvialuit Game Council, Ulukhaktok Hunters and Trappers Committee, and the Paulatuk Hunters and Trappers Committee.

The final management plan adheres to co-management processes legislated under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

The agreement does not have provisions for automatic protections for species or habitat, but implementation will be reviewed and reported on every five years.

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