By Sarah Sibley
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Limited harvesting of the Mackenzie wood bison herd ends on Tuesday, closing the first season since 2012 in which N.W.T.
residents have been able to hunt the animal.
Anthrax poisoning caused more than 450 bison in the herd to die in 2012, dropping their number to just over 700 and triggering a territorial pause on harvesting.
Terry Armstrong, an N.W.T. government bison ecologist, says the herd, commonly seen on Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchok, had sufficiently recovered for harvesting to resume in a limited capacity.
A 2019 survey determined there were about 1,470 animals.
Forty tags to harvest male bison were given to Indigenous groups in the North Slave, South Slave, and Dehcho, to be used between September 1, 2021 and March 15, 2022.
Armstrong said groups were “very eager for us reopen hunting on that population.”
The Northwest Territory Metis Nation was among tag recipients.
Garry Bailey, its president, welcomed being able to hunt bison again but said this year’s program had not worked for the group, which represents the Metis of the South Slave.
“They’re giving us a season but we don’t harvest in seasons as Aboriginal people, we hunt year-round, and it’s only four bison they’ve allowed us to get for our membership of 3,000 people,” Bailey said.
Bailey said 100 bison tags would more realistically provide enough meat to make country food more accessible to the N.W.T. Metis Nation’s members and improve food security.
According to Bailey, a defined hunting season doesn’t work as factors like winter extreme cold deter harvesters.
“I think it should be left open for us,” he said. “We’re only taking bulls as it is, so there’s no reason for them to have the seasonal harvest. We should be able to go get the bison when we’re ready to go get them.”
Of the four tags the group received, Bailey said on Friday none had yet been used. He said he wanted the season to be extended but that request had not been answered.
“I’d like to be able to negotiate the amount of bison that we should be able to take,” he said of future seasons. “We represent three communities and one buffalo per community is not enough, it’s not even close to enough.”
Cabin Radio contacted other recipients of bison tags, including the offices of the Deh Gah Got’ First Nation, Fort Providence Metis Council, and the T???ch? Government, but did not receive responses.
Armstrong expects harvesting to remain regulated, including a limited number of tags, for some time, to ensure herd numbers are strong.
An updated aerial count in 2023 will assess the herd’s growth over the past four years. That survey may lead to an adjustment of tag numbers.
Bailey said country food supply is being stretched on several fronts. Factors he listed include an inability to harvest animals in Wood Buffalo National Park, a decrease in the moose harvest, and having to travel farther to harvest caribou within the appropriate zone.
“It probably takes us a week to 10 days to actually go get caribou,” he said.
“Not many people have the kind of time to go do that. Getting caribou is pretty scarce on our end.”
Sarah Sibley is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the CABIN RADIO . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.