Three of the NWT’s five barren-ground caribou herds are growing or stabilizing, while two have declined in size over the last three years.

The findings are part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s latest population survey, which was released on Monday.

“These population estimates are used to assess the health of the caribou herds and to help ensure sound decision making for those involved in the collaborative management of these herds,” the department wrote in a statement on the report, Dec. 20.

Of the territory’s five herds, the Bluenose-East herd has increased from 19,300 members in 2018 to 23,200 in 2021; The Cape Bathurst herd, from 4,500 to 4,913; and the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula herd, from 1,500 to 3,073.

On the other hand, the Bathurst herd declined from 8,200 members in 2018 to 6,240 in 2021, and the Bluenose-West herd decreased from 21,000 to 18,440 members in the same time period. Of the five herds, the department ruled that only the rise in the Cape Bathurst herd’s population was statistically significant.

The findings are a positive sign for the Bluenose East herd, which was found to be on a continual decline in the 2018 survey. At the time, ENR Minister Robert McLeod called the results “troubling.”

However, the department said there are “still concerns” about the Bathurst herd, which was also found to be in decline in 2018. However, its decrease in population between 2018 and 2021 was not considered statistically significant.

The population surveys are informed by Taking Care of Caribou: the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East barren-ground caribou herds management plan, released in 2014. Although the plan was devised “in response to reported declines in the herds,” the plan also seeks to “maintain herds within the known natural range of variation, conserve and manage caribou habitat, and ensure that harvesting is respectful and sustainable.”

The survey was meant to be conducted in 2020, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The next herd population estimates will take place in 2023-24.

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