One of the best parts of this job is that you never know what is going to happen next. We are so varied in the work we do, we almost never know what kind of project we will be working next. We’ve jumped from five week Environmental Monitoring courses to a two day Firearms Safety course and then followed it up with a six month long State of the Protected Areas report. When the opportunity to do a longer, year long, contract with the Species at Risk Committee came up we were as usual very excited to sign on. Despite the workload we still find a way to enjoy the awesome recreational offerings here in NWT.
So we started the yearlong contract that would have us produce the Traditional and Community Knowledge Report on the Status of the Barren Ground Caribou. We are pretty excited to have been chosen to take part in such an important project. The report that we are working on will go into the assessment process used by the Species at Risk Committee as they decide whether or not Barren Ground Caribou should be listed as a species at risk.
Long before we were awarded this contract I had made plans to paddle the Thelon River, a trip that would take us roughly 1000 Km from Damant Lake down the Elk River into the Thelon and eventually to Baker Lake. On this trip we’d be traveling through the traditional ranges of the Ahiak, Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds. As the first phase of the project was to read as much of the publicly available Traditional Knowledge on Barren Ground Caribou, I loaded up my e-reader and got ready to spend the summer paddling in the heart of caribou country.
Being on the land while doing the research for a project like this has to be one of the most profound experiences I’ve had in my working life. Everywhere we went we saw signs of caribou and the people that had for millennia subsisted off of them. At almost every stop we’d find bones, antlers, artifacts and tent rings. The one thing we saw very little of was caribou. Part of that was timing we were too early to see the migration in the eastern part of our trip and day or two late at the western end.
On Beverly Lake we saw millions of footprints but only a few stragglers that had fallen behind the main throng. It was heartbreaking to see so much evidence but so few caribou. One of the main concerns that we’ve been finding in our research is that fire is destroying the winter habitat of the caribou. This point was especially close to home for us on the trip as we left Fort Smith during one of the worst fire seasons on record. A few days before leaving the smoke was so bad that the street lights came on at mid-day! At one point on the Thelon we even found ourselves paddling directly through a fire, the smoke was so thick that visibility was reduced to 100m. Hopefully this year’s extreme fire season is not the new norm.
In the coming months we will be hard at work trying to contact as many people as possible that can provide us with Traditional Knowledge reports. If you would like to suggest any sources of information that would provide insight into the status of Barren Ground Caribou, please contact us here.