Government of Nunavut's change in caribou calving ground position 'irresponsible,' WWF says

WWF stands with Inuit Regional Wildlife Organizations to call for the moratorium of mining activities in Nunavut's caribou calving grounds. 

IQALUIT, March 8, 2016 /CNW/ - WWF is disappointed in the Government of Nunavut's recently announced position supporting development within caribou calving grounds and key access corridors. Caribou are sensitive when on their calving grounds, which is why WWF-Canada has been supportive of calls for a moratorium on mining exploration or development on core calving grounds.

David Miller, president and CEO at WWF-Canada said: "The Government of Nunavut's decision to change its position on development in caribou calving grounds fails to recognize that caribou herd numbers are in vast decline. Every precaution should be taken to protect remaining populations. While economic opportunities are needed in the North, they must not come at the cost of nature that supports communities."

Paul Crowley, vice-president of Arctic conservation at WWF-Canada said: "Science-based evidence and local knowledge tells us that even a small disturbance on a calving ground can cause mothers to fail to reproduce, to abandon their calves, and to devote less time to eating, resulting in a weakened body condition. We continue to stand with the Regional Wildlife Organizations, who represent the Hunters and Trappers Organizations of Nunavut, calling for the moratorium of mining activities in Nunavut's caribou calving grounds."

Canadian barren-land caribou populations are on the decline. The Bluenose East herd has declined nearly 80 per cent, to fewer than 40,000 individuals, in the past 12 years. While some of the decline can be attributed to natural population cycles and climate change, industrial development in the region also has the potential to cause habitat loss and disturb caribou during sensitive parts of their lifecycle.

Up until now, the Government of Nunavut's position was a firm prohibition on industrial activity in core calving grounds and key access corridors, with seasonal restrictions in post calving areas. They now hope to protect these vital areas by employing untested mobile protection measures.

This goes against the advice of, among others, all three Regional Wildlife Management Boards that represent all of the Hunters and Trappers Organizations in Nunavut, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and caribou management boards such as the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board whose support for full protection of vital caribou habitat is based on both traditional as well as scientific knowledge. 

Mobile protection is not a proven tool to protect critical caribou habitat. There is no evidence to support its effectiveness. At a time when all the Barren ground caribou herds in Nunavut are crashing, experimenting with unproven protection measures in critical habitat is foolhardy.

WWF supports designating all caribou calving and post-calving areas, key access corridors and freshwater crossings as Protected Areas, regardless of their mineral potential. Caribou do not care if a calving area is rich in mineral potential or not. WWF is not opposed to responsible mining activities in other areas, but the ecological and cultural importance of caribou to Nunavut deserves protection, especially in light of the recent downturn in caribou numbers across the North.

The Nunavut Land Use Plan represents a crucial opportunity to help safeguard many of the barren-ground caribou herds of the North, and to allow for population growth of the great herds to levels that can support sustainable harvest and perhaps one day return to historical levels.

ABOUT: WWF-Canada builds solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that together, wildlife, nature and people thrive. Because we are all wildlife. wwf.ca

SOURCE WWF-Canada

For further information: Rebecca Spring, Communications Specialist, WWF-Canada, 647-338-6274, rspring@wwfcanada.org

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