A new survey of dall sheep in the Richardson Mountains, between Aklavik and Fort McPherson, shows the population’s numbers on the rise, which means the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board is lifting its voluntary closure on hunting the animals.

The GRRB’s June survey showed the population has climbed from 496 in 2014 to 647 now.

When the population fell below 500, the GRRB enacted a recommendation in its management plan to call for a voluntary closure of hunting dall sheep, but now the population is back in a safer range.

Wildlife biologist Édouard Bélanger, who took part in the survey, said it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the population change.

“Why it increased in the last three years, it’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s hard to speculate. There are a lot of potential ecological processes that could explain that.”

The GRRB’s management plan states that a legislated closure, instead of just voluntary, would be enacted if the population fell below 350.

Dall sheep, or divii in Gwich’in, have been traditionally used for food, hides, medicines and tools.

Bélanger said there is another population of dall sheep in the southern Gwich’in Settlement Area in the Mackenzie Mountains.

He took part in the helicopter survey of the Richardson population in June and said community members and hunters have helped the GRRB a lot to track the population.

Amy Amos, executive director of the GRRB, said the board is going to try to work with the communities on more monitoring in between survey years. The next helicopter survey is scheduled to be in 2020.

“The board is going to start some communication to let people know that voluntary closure is now lifted,” said Amos.