The NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is taking new steps to protect the territory’s threatened boreal caribou population with the implementation of its first Interim Boreal Caribou Range Plan.

On March 22, the department announced that the first of five regional plans aimed at protecting the vulnerable boreal caribou population had been implemented in the Wek’èezhı̀ı area, in the western Tlicho region, including the community of Gameti.

Most notably, the interim plan proposes different classes of protection for different regions based on the amount of human disturbance. The Wek’èezhı̀ı region is considered the lowest tier, given the low risk to habitat posed by human activity in the region. There are also different grades of management for different sectors of each region. Under the interim plan, 55 per cent of the Wek’èezhı̀ı region requires “basic” management, 30 per cent requires “enhanced” management, and 15 per cent requires “intensive” management.

The plan also sets guidelines for the maximum amount of disturbance the caribou habitat can handle, whether it be from natural events like forest fires or human activity, such as resource extraction. In the case of the Wek’èezhı̀ı area, the caribou habitat can withstand a maximum of 40 per cent disturbance — in other words, at least 60 per cent of the habitat must remain undisturbed.

Each of the five regional plans is part of the territory’s broader 2017 boreal caribou recovery strategy, which is itself a product of the territory’s Species at Risk (NWT) Act.

According to ENR’s website, there are an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 boreal caribou left in the territory, and their population has declined significantly across most of Canada. The species is considered “threatened” by both the federal government and the GNWT.

The interim plan will be in place through at least 2023 until the final plan is finished.

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