Sport hunt remains open despite major decline in Leaf River herd

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The Grand Council of the Crees, the Naskapi Nation and the Nunavik Inuit have together called on the government of Quebec to cancel the 2017-2018 sport hunt, so far to no avail. The latest results show that the herd has reached its lowest recorded population with a summer census and fall classification census putting the herd at around 181,000 caribou – an alarmingly low number compared to the 2011 tally of 430,000.

On December 21, the Cree Nation Government’s Environment and Remedial Works department met with the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to discuss measures to protect the Leaf River herd while still allowing harvest rights for those who depend on caribou as a source of food.

However, Minister Laurent Lessard rejected the request to close the 2017-2018 sport harvest, opting to instead cut the number of hunting permits issued in the coming year by 50%. While Lessard did agree to cancel the sport hunt of 2018-2019, Nadia Saganash, Wildlife Management Administrator for the Cree Environment and Remedial Works department, says the current population levels simply cannot sustain any more sport hunting.

“At the moment the [Leaf River herd] population is not even able to sustain our own guaranteed level of harvest,” Saganash told the Nation. “Our position is still the same, we’re requesting the closure of the sport hunt based on the principle of priority of harvest for the Native people.”

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Saganash said that the ministry has already announced measures to be taken concerning the caribou population for next year, officially confirming that the 2017-2018 sport hunt will remain open, with the 50% reduction in permits.

“We still don’t understand why the Quebec government wants to continue this,” she said. “By continuing the sport hunt they’re jeopardizing even further the capacity of the Native people to feed themselves.”

According to Saganash, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement established the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee as a “preferential and exclusive” committee with respect to the management of caribou. She says Quebec’s disregard of the committee’s recent recommendation to close the sport harvest represents a clear breach of these agreements and infringes upon the rights of the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi signatories.   

“The level of population just doesn’t allow for a sports hunt right now,” Saganash argued. “An additional 1000, even 300-400 caribou being taken is too much and ultimately Natives will suffer the consequences and have themselves reduce their harvest. We’re already working with the communities to reduce their harvest, but by continuing the sports hunt they’re just aggravating the situation.

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“We recognize that this will have economical impacts on outfitters, including our own Cree outfitters, but the impacts of the herd’s extinction will be far greater on the food security and culture of the Native people. The survival of a people and their traditions must be considered a priority over commercial activity.” – Isaac Voyageur, Director of Environment and Remedial Works, Cree Nation Government

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