Hats off to the NWT Brewing Company for its new Five Antlers Ale campaign designed to draw attention to the caribou in the north teetering on the brink of extinction. In conjunction with NWT Species at Risk, part of the money raised from the sale of this specially brewed beer and the accompanying swag (including original artwork by Robbie Craig) will be donated to conservation efforts intended to give the caribou a chance.

It is a welcome plan at a time when we could be seeing these animals disappear forever.

It is with this kind of attention coupled with efforts from both levels of government that the herds may survive although that is uncertain. Many say it is already too late – and it may very well be for at least one of them. The Bathurst herd which once roamed the north in numbers reaching almost half million 35 years ago dropped to 8,200 animals in 2018. We wait with bated breath for new survey results expected this year.

The time has long passed for our waiting until there is another wasteful slaughter on the winter roads before we raise our voice in protest. We know that last winter more than 100 of these animals were felled in protected areas with whole carcasses left to rot or other animals wounded and left to die slow and painful deaths.

Likewise, with each new infrastructure project that is approved or waiting for that, the public must demand that every precaution is taken to ensure the caribou’s well-being. We no longer want to see them mentioned in the fine print only but in the lead paragraph. As important as any hydroelectric project or mine is the health and preservation of the caribou and we need the government and private sectors to know that. We stand behind the caribou too. After all, the health of the herds is really a measure of our own. When they go, we will not be far behind.

Public awareness of their plight needs to be a part of our everyday conversation. It can no longer be a media event at a time of crisis.

If they vanish, so too will a way of life that has sustained the first nations for hundreds if not thousands of years. There will be no country food for the elders or others living in the communities, no cultural skills to teach the young and northerners will have no stories to tell about the animals which once defined the north.

If this Five Antlers Ale campaign is so important, it is because three of the five barren ground types are threatened. In addition to the Bathurst, the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula herd was last recorded at 1,500, and in 2018, the Bluenose-East was down to 19,300 from 39,000 three years earlier.

Now is the time for our politicians, our elders and our chiefs to be helping us all understand how we can save what remains of our caribou. It is also the time for the territorial government to be preparing educational packages for the next hunting season by hiring and training more staff to monitor activity on the winter roads and encouraging the federal government to keep them closed. Money spent to buy drones could be a sensible substitute for aerial wolf kills helping us to monitor what is happening where and when and triggering immediate responses.

While private businesses such as the NWT Brewing Company can help promote public awareness campaigns, each one of us can also monitor of our own environmental footprint. Our every action on the northern landscape affects the well-being of all wildlife.

In the meantime, we can educate ourselves. In addition to raising money for caribou conservation through this campaign, NWT Species at Risk and the brewery have created a website https://fiveantlers.ca/ which provides an excellent source of information about our herds.

The caribou are counting on us. We are the ones who determine whether they will survive and the history books will catalogue how successful we were in this task.

So have a Five Antler’s brew FOR the caribou and buy one for a friend. We can be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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