For two years, members of the Imaryuk (Husky Lakes) Community Monitoring program have been watching the rivers along the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH).
Now, thanks to some grant funding sourced by project manager Kirt Ruben, they won’t have to use their own vehicles on the job.
“The purpose of the pilot program was to implement a guardian-style monitoring program to help protect and conserve local fisheries, related community use and cultural activity from negative impacts that could result from the new access that could be provided by the opening of the highway connecting Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean,” he said. “Fish and fish habitat was the main concern when the road opened in 2017.”
Since 2018, they’ve scanned for sediment entering the water.
As the program is the combined efforts of both Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk’s Hunters and Trappers Committee, advocated for by the Joint Secretariat, watching the waterways is split between the two groups, with the Inuvik team monitoring from kilometre zero to 70 and the Tuktoyaktuk team covering kilometres 70 thru 148.
As there was little to no enforcement on fisheries in the area, the idea gained traction very quickly among the HTCs, who hired four drivers to begin monitoring the waterways from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday from April to November.
“All creeks lead to Husky Lakes,” said Ruben. “So if there’s a concern sediment and waste are affecting fish and fish habitat and we know for a fact one creek is going to lead directly to Imaryuk, we would just submit our data collection and documents over to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and we would start collaborating as to whether or not we would have to go further onto the land for the research.
“When they’re patrolling the ITH from Inuvik to Tuk, we’re looking at creeks, lakes, bridges and culverts that are connected to lakes, and lakes that are connected to Husky Lakes.”
The four water monitors, Lennie Emaghok, Joshua Teddy, Angus Alunik and Lawrence Rogers also work as unofficial ambassadors of the ITH, providing assistance to residents and travellers while on their daily patrols.
However, there was one caveat — the organizations had the will and the people to do it, but they didn’t have any funding. So the water monitors took in on themselves to use their own vehicles in their data collection.
So, Ruben set about trying to fix that. He wrote up a funding proposal and sent it to the Indigenous Habitat Participation Program and they approved three years of funding, which enabled him to acquire two new Ford F-150 pickup trucks.
“This program is going to be ongoing and we want the continuation of it every year,” he said. “When personal vehicles are down, there’s no data collection and we don’t know how long the vehicles are down for and it’s an added cost from our limited resources for training.”
Having funding in place, Ruben said the HTCs had enough money left over to budget for wear and tear, so he expected they could get 10 to 15 years’ worth of work out of the trucks.
With the Imaryuk program now fully established, Ruben said his focus is shifting to helping the four water monitors improve their skills and credentials.
He noted the Joint Secretariat had a partnership with Wilfred Laurier University for training. During the height of the pandemic last year, scientists were unable to travel, so instead they trained the water monitors to operate scientific instruments on their behalf. Ruben said he wanted to expand on that and expand the capacity of the program by bringing in more training opportunities for his monitors.
“We want to ensure that every external researcher that wants to work with Imaryuk monitors or requests our services, that we’re ready with certified training that would not consider us research assistants any more, but equals in the fields,” he said. “And also community outreach. Due to Covid-19, we suspended that until we’re back to normal.”