B. Labrador – Boreal Caribou Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Gathering Workshop Final Report
Table of Contents
- Document Information
- Executive Summary
- 1.0 Introduction
- 2.0 Methodology
- 3.0 Boreal Caribou Knowledge
- 3.1 Overview of Participants
- 3.2 Range Boundaries of Boreal Caribou
- 3.3 Habitat Use
- 3.4 Population Trends
- 3.5 Mitigation Measures
- 4.0 Conclusion
- 5.0 Recommendations
Labrador Boreal Caribou Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Gathering Workshop Final Report
Canadian Wildlife Service
NunatuKavut Community Council Inc.
P.O. Box 198
Port Hope Simpson, NL
This report highlights the depth of knowledge, as well as the concerns, certain members of the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) have regarding the current and historical status of Boreal caribou in Labrador. It also provides various recommendations as to how the recovery of Boreal caribou populations in Labrador can, and should be, approached.
Of particular note is the high number of factors identified as potentially contributing to the decrease of Boreal caribou numbers in Labrador. Most factors are anthropogenic in nature, and while some are potentially devastating on their own, the cumulative affect of such factors is of great concern and leaves no doubt as to why Boreal caribou numbers are down to the level they are.
However, the continued presence of Boreal caribou in Labrador, and the reintroduction of these animals back into historically occupied ranges is something that all participants support. Participants do not want to see Boreal caribou disappear from the Labrador landscape and would consider such an event a great loss to their culture and traditional way of life in Labrador.
Boreal caribou are an animal of great importance to the aboriginal peoples of Labrador. Unfortunately, the demand for Boreal caribou by both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples and other environmental and anthropogenic factors, have lead to a steep decline in the number of Boreal caribou remaining in Labrador. This decline has been so steep that the very existence of some of Labrador's Boreal caribou populations is at stake. Federally and provincially, Boreal caribou are listed as Threatened. However, harvesting of this animal continues today despite declining numbers in many segments of the population. This is due largely as a result of mistrust and a lack of communication between the provincial government and aboriginal groups, a lack of willingness on the provincial government's behalf to deal fairly with aboriginal groups, and a lack of combining Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) and "Western" science in order to get the most accurate picture of how to approach population management and recovery.
The Methodology and information ahead is a joint effort between the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) and Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) to gather ATK on Boreal caribou in Labrador. This ATK is to be used to inform the development of a national recovery strategy and support recovery planning for Boreal caribou. The information is not to be considered a consultation; however, it does provide an overview of a portion of the knowledge and views contained within the aboriginal community on the topic.
In order to gather the information required in this project, it was decided that a group workshop in a neutral location would bring out more information than one-on-one discussions with individuals at their homes, within the time frame and funding allotted. In order to encourage participation, invitees had hotel rooms, per diems, mileage, and honorariums provided. Once assembled, the group of fourteen NCC members were guided through a previously developed questionnaire and mapping exercise. The questionnaire used can be found in Appendix B: Questionnaire used to Guide Discussion during Boreal Caribou ATK Workshop.
The group ranged in age from those in their late twenties to those in their seventies, with professions ranging from pilots to trappers. Questions ranged from those on the location of historical and recent forest fires, to those on predator prey relationships and changes in weather related environmental conditions. The interviewees were allowed the freedom to converse and ask questions not only on the subject matter, but on other NCC activities as well. It was found that this allowed them to become comfortable in both asking for, and in providing, information. The interviewer ensured that great respect was shown for all subject matter, and minimized cutting individuals off even when information was off topic. To facilitate such freedom of speaking, plenty of time was allotted for the workshop so that the atmosphere was not one in which people felt they were confined by time restraints. As a result, individuals were very agreeable to sharing and discussing the information they had to offer. The workshop took approximately two days to complete using this methodology; however, a wealth of information was gathered. All in attendance felt honored to have their knowledge considered with such respect, even requesting other workshops be held in the same manner.
To add variety to the workshop and to break the time up, the workshop also included presentations by such organizations as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service. A special presentation was done by NCC member and elder, […]. […] brought with him a caribou skin and shin bone, demonstrating how skins were handled and cleaned traditionally before the advent of contemporary tanning methods (see cover page for a picture of […] holding his caribou skin at the workshop).
3.0 Boreal Caribou Knowledge
3.1 Overview of Participants
Participants in this survey came from throughout the NunatuKavut Land Claim area. Participants ranged in age from those in their late 20s to those in their 70s, with professions ranging from pilots to trappers. It is, however, acknowledged that this survey suffered from a lack of representation from Western Labrador and the Labrador Straits. This was primarily due to budget constraints during the project period. For a complete list of participants refer to Appendix C: List of Participants.
3.1.1 Time on the Land
Most participants in this survey spent approximately 9 months on the land each year. On average, participants spent approximately 7 months on the land each year. Only two participants spent less than four months on the land each year.
3.1.2 Time of Year on the Land
Most participants spent time on the land year-round, with only a couple that spent just the summer and fall months on the land. Those participants spending just the summer and fall months on the land were elderly participants that were limited in their physical abilities.
3.1.3 Activities on the Land
The range of activities that interviewees participated in on the land included, but is not limited to:
- Fishing Trapping
- Ice fishing
- Boiling up
- Cutting firewood
- Cutting logs
- Berry picking
3.1.4 Local Names for Boreal Caribou
Participants, for the most part, referred to Boreal caribou and caribou in general as "Deer". While it was noted that "Tuktu" was another name used to describe caribou, in the memory of those present, "Deer" was the word most commonly used by their fathers and grandfathers.
3.1.5 Importance of Boreal Caribou
Participants noted that Boreal caribou were extremely important to their culture. These animals were not only used as a source of food, but also as a source of clothing, tools, and construction material. The skin of the caribou was often used in the construction of sleeping pads and sleeping blankets, while the sinew would be made into thread for sewing. Boots were also made from the animal, in particular from the knucks (feet). Interestingly it was noted that with regards to sleeping pads, summer skins were better for lying on, as the hair did not come out as easily as the hair of animals killed in winter. The shin bone from the rear leg of caribou would be used as a scraper to clean caribou and other skins. The skins were tanned using brains and various methods of smoking, similar in manner to the way fish were smoked.
3.2 Range Boundaries of Boreal Caribou
Please refer to Appendix A: Maps from Mapping Exercise, to see areas of current and historical Boreal caribou sightings and to see important summer and wintering areas identified by participants. Important calving areas identified by participants can also be seen in Appendix A: Maps from Mapping Exercise.
3.2.1 Herds Currently Known of in Area
Participants identified several groups of animals within NunatuKavut territory, such as:
- Red Wine herd
- Mealy Mountain herd
- Lac Joseph herd
- George River herd
- Joir River herd
3.2.2 Differences between Herds
Participants noted that there were visible differences between George River and Boreal caribou in Labrador. Most notably, they indicated that Boreal caribou tend to be bigger in overall size and longer along the back, with antlers that have more prongs and sweep backwards more than those of the George River herd. It was also noted that Boreal caribou tend to be darker in color overall, with darker greys and more of a brownish color to their hair than George River caribou.
3.2.3 Herd Movement
When asked if the Boreal caribou herds overlapped with each other or with the George River herd, most participants stated that "according to scientist they don't". However, it was stated that in the past, the Red Wine and Mealy Mountain herds have overlapped with the George River herd, but that the George River herd always seem to head back north.
3.3 Habitat Use
In general it was noted that males and females use different areas from one another at certain times of year, particularly during calving, at which time the females calve on barren ground away from males for the most part. However, it was noted that young males of 3 years or less often stay with the females during calving.
3.3.1 Current Habitat Use
Locations and time of year where participants have seen Boreal caribou in recent years
- West side of Cache river (December)
- Grand River (summer and fall)
- Lower Brook (summer and fall)
- Diver Brook (August)
- Wilson River (August)
- The Wonderstrand (summer)
- Kenemich (spring and summer)
- In behind Mud Lake (winter)
- Mealys (winter)
- Black Tickle (winter)
- Red Wine Mountains (winter)
3.3.2 Historical Habitat Use
Locations where participants have seen Boreal caribou historically other than those locations listed in the previous section are:
- Deerhorn Hill
- Deer Ridges
- White Hills
It was noted during the discussion on historical habitat use, that antlers were shed at the White Hills and Deer Ridges in the past, and that periodically Boreal caribou were seen throughout most of coastal and interior Labrador at various times of year.
3.3.3 Land Types Used by Boreal Caribou
There were four land types that participants had seen Boreal caribou using:
Caribou tend to mostly travel through burned over areas, unless there is good quality caribou moss growing there. If good quality moss is available, then they may stop to feed. Refer to Appendix A: Maps from Mapping Exercise, to view areas identified as being burned by forest fire within the last 50 years and areas identified as being burned by forest fire more than 50 years ago.
Caribou have been seen a lot in or near barren areas in the wintertime, possibly due to the lack of snow cover, allowing easy access to food.
Caribou have been seen using these areas during the summer to escape the flies, as these areas tend to be windier.
Caribou have been seen along coastal areas eating seaweed.
It was noted that caribou are spotted along the shoreline mostly in the summer.
3.3.4 Plants used by Boreal Caribou
There were only two plants identified by participants that they knew were used by Boreal caribou:
Caribou (white) Moss
Caribou tend to prefer Caribou moss that is growing in areas that have not been disturbed by fire in recent years. It was noted by some, that they like the "green" part of the moss, which is found in areas where the moss is more mature.
While it was not noted the type of seaweed eaten by Boreal caribou, it was noted that they can often be seen eating seaweed in beaches along the coast during the summer.
3.4 Population Trends
It was noted by all participants that Boreal caribou have disappeared from many of the areas that were once inhabited by the animals, and that numbers are far lower than they once were. This comparison is based on the number and location of animals participants saw when they were younger and on information handed down to them in stories from their parents and grandparents, in comparison to the number and location of animals seen by participants in recent years. It was also noted that while most families traditionally hunted caribou, the main reason for not hunting them anymore was that it was against federal and provincial regulations and because there were no longer any caribou in many areas left to hunt.
3.4.1 Why the Decrease in Caribou?
There were several reasons provided as to why Boreal caribou populations have been decreasing, most of which appear to be anthropogenic in nature. Participants felt that the three greatest threats currently facing Woodland caribou are:
- Illegal hunting (participants expressed frustrations over the lack of action taken towards the hunting of Boreal caribou by Quebec Innu).
The various threats that concerned participants were:
There were several stories of overhunting that were witnessed by, or communicated to, participants. Most of these stories concerned Innu hunters from Quebec. One of the participants had witnessed a group of Innu hunting caribou at night using spotlights. It was also noted that aircraft were sometimes used by these hunters to spot caribou from the air, so that groups in communication with the aircraft could narrow in on the location of herds. It was noted that hunters from Old Fort and St. Paul killed many caribou from the Mealy Mountain herd during the 1970s.
Because of today's technology with regards to snowmobiles, ATVs, trucks, GPS, satellite tracking, planes, and increased road access, people can chase down the caribou more easily than in the past. At one time, caribou were hunted mostly by dog team or on foot, and could outrun their pursuers in many cases and retreat inland to escape. This allowed many animals out of a group to survive and replenish the population. However, with modern technology it is now possible to eliminate a whole group of animals with relative ease.
Lack of Respect
It was noted that many of today's hunters do not respect caribou as did the hunters of yesterday. At one time people respected the animal and would take only as many animals as they needed. People relied on the animals and the environment around them for survival and thus had an intimate relationship with both. Today, however, hunters will often take as many animals as they can get, regardless of the actual need. And in most cases the full animal is poorly utilized.
Military Presence in Labrador
It was noted that during the American military's presence in Goose Bay and near Cartwright, that they would sometimes fly into the Mealy Mountains in helicopter and shoot caribou from the air for sport. It was noted that on one occasion, Innu traveling between St. Augustine and Sheshatshiu once came across 20-30 dead caribou in behind Kenemich on a pond. There were no tracks of any people or snow machines around, yet there were shell casings on top of the snow.
Flooding for Upper Churchill Hydro Development
It was noted that this development had an extremely detrimental affect to the Lac Joseph caribou herd, other Boreal caribou populations, and the George River caribou herd as well, as the area flooded was in use by these caribou prior to being flooded.
It is thought that PCB contamination around old American military sites could potentially be affecting caribou populations. While the person noting this referred to a write-up on the George River herd in an area around Makkovik, they felt that pollution could also be affecting Boreal caribou populations throughout Labrador.
It is worthwhile to note that during construction and recently during maintenance of the Trans Labrador Highway, reliable sources have noted thousands of litres of hydrocarbon waste being dumped and buried illegally by construction and road maintenance companies. One story was told of a truck full of waste oil having its release valve broken and spilling its entire load of oil along a ditch, with no efforts made to contain or cleanup the waste. The oil was just buried over and allowed to flow into the ground.
While the individual noted that they reported the incident to the provincial Dept. of Environment and Conservation, they stated that they were unaware of any actions taken on the matter.
It was noted that after the large forest fires along the south coast of Labrador, the caribou just didn't seem to return. One participant noted that it took 80 years for caribou moss to grow back to a good quality in burned areas. It was noted by a participant involved in caribou tracking at one time, that a Doe traveled 56 miles through a burned area in one 24-hour period, to get to a feeding area outside the burn. This indicates that forest fire has a negative impact on habitat used by caribou for quite some time after the initial burn.
The current impact of Wolves on Boreal caribou is likely disproportionate to in the past, due to the extremely low number of Boreal caribou present on the landscape today. Increasing Moose numbers in Labrador are thought to be having a negative affect on caribou as well, as the high number of moose are thought to be supporting larger numbers of Wolves. It was noted that predation by Black bears is likely having a larger affect on Boreal caribou than at one time, due to both the extremely high number of bears and the low number of caribou. Lynx have also been known to stalk adult caribou, and these have been abundant in Labrador over the past couple of years. However, according to some trappers, the Lynx population is expected to crash along with is primary food source (the snowshoe hare) over the next year or two, as part of its natural cycle. There was mention of a cougar seen between Labrador City and Churchill in 1994-95, and a Black panther seen near Paradise River in the summer of 2008. So, new predators could potentially be in Labrador and preying on Boreal caribou, unbeknownst to scientists and provincial officials.
Some of the future developments that interviewees feel will have a negative impact on Boreal caribou are:
The Lower Churchill hydro development by Nalcor and the corresponding transmission line, construction and surveying associated with the project. The key issues would be flooding of Boreal caribou habitat on the Lower Churchill and the increased level of access to previously pristine Boreal caribou habitat in Labrador's interior. This increased access would be as a result of the construction and maintenance of a transmission line and related access infrastructure.
Forestry activity on the South side of the Grand River.
The possibility of mining the iron sands on the Grand River and the construction and operation of a smelter in the area.
Parasites & Disease
With regards to Boreal caribou health, it was noted that due to the lack of hunting of these populations, at least legally, there is limited information. However, some points to note, related to the legally hunted George River caribou population, which could apply also to Boreal caribou include:
One interviewee stated that he has not eaten the liver of caribou from the George River herd in about 30 years due to the presence of parasites and Mercury.
It was noted that Brainworm was found in some George River caribou and that Whitetail Deer could be mixing with these caribou and Boreal caribou as well. There are a number of individuals who claim to have seen White-tailed deer in Labrador. With a large population of these deer on Anticosti Island, it is felt by many that some of these may have made it to the nearby mainland over the ice, and spread to Labrador.
The number of Stout larvae in caribou doesn't seem to have changed over the years. However, there are many new insects being seen around the Goose Bay area, that were never noticed historically, such as June Bugs. These new insects may be interacting in some manner with caribou, which could be causing problems for the animals.
There have been reports of Boreal caribou being killed by transport trucks. One individual noted 3-8 killed during one collision that he came across.
While thought of as a threat to the existence of many animals in their historical range, it is interesting that with regards to Boreal caribou, participants feel that climate change will benefit them rather than hurt them, as they feel caribou will be able to access feed easier as snowfall accumulations during winter decrease. Participants also felt that Wolves would not be able to prey on caribou as easily on hard ground as they can in the deep snow. Some other points of interest that interviewees noted with regards to climate change in their areas of Labrador were: they are experiencing later freeze-ups and earlier springs, higher levels of runoff in the spring, more rain than normal throughout the year, and stronger winds that are occurring more often.
It was noted that Low level flying by jets seems to startle caribou and stop their feeding much less than the same activity carried out by helicopters. One participant noted that in a test with a jet, caribou stopped feeding, ran a few hundred meters, and then started feeding again. While in a test with a helicopter, the caribou stopped feeding and ran over a kilometer before resuming feeding. With the increase in exploration activity throughout Labrador, low flying helicopters could be having a detrimental effect to Boreal caribou populations, as these aircraft are capable of covering large areas and traveling to areas where Boreal caribou weren't likely to be disturbed by humans previously. The searches conducted by these helicopters are very thorough, thus the time spent over Boreal caribou habitat can be quite extensive.
It was noted that in the 1950s, approximately 3000-5000 animals from the Mealy mountain herd were seen crossing from the Mealys and travelling north of the Fraser canyon, meeting up with approximately 30,000 George River caribou. Some participants believe that this is where the big population of the George River herd came from over the years, and that such activity could be partly to blame for the low number of Boreal caribou remaining.
3.5 Mitigation Measures
Mitigation measures that participants put forward have been divided up into two categories:
Those measures that helped maintain sustainable populations of Boreal caribou in the past.
Those measures that could help in the recovery of remaining Boreal caribou populations.
However, based on the conversation of participants, no one measure stands alone with respect to caribou recovery. It is recognized that a combination of many, if not all, measures must be used to assist with the recovery of the declining Boreal caribou populations in Labrador.
3.5.1 Past Mitigation Measures
Measures that helped maintain sustainable populations of Boreal caribou in the past were:
Low population of people. In the past when the population of people in Labrador was lower, there were less people around to use the caribou as resource.
More caribou. Initially when Boreal caribou populations were high in number, the number of caribou taken from the population by hunting or other means had less of an impact than mortalities in the population today, as the percentage of the population being removed was lower.
Lack of Technology. In the past, the ability to use aircraft, vehicles and roads, to access hard to reach caribou populations, was limited. As such, there were always pockets of animals that were able to replenish the population and replace those that were taken.
Respect for the animal. Due to the fact that in the past, there were no stores to go to and buy meat, clothing, and tools, people had more of a respect for the animals they were hunting. If you knew you needed the animal for survival, you would not waste it, or it would not be there during the hard times. People experienced food shortages and knew the dangers of such times in the past. Today in Labrador you can go to the store and pick up whatever you want, whenever you want, for the most part. And if something is not available, you can have it shipped in from anywhere in the world within days, if need be.
3.5.2 Present Mitigation Measures
Some of the measures that participants feel are needed to help Boreal caribou populations in Labrador recover to a sustainable level at which they can once again be used as a resource (ex. hunting, clothing, etc.), are:
Kill off bear and wolf cubs. Due to the high number of bears and wolves being seen in relation to caribou, it is felt that they are having a negatively disproportionate affect on Boreal caribou populations.
Stand up to illegal hunting from the Innu of Quebec. Participants feel that the hunting of Boreal caribou by Quebec Innu in Labrador is a major concern that needs to be addressed. Much frustration was expressed over the lack of action by the provincial government to enforce regulations against the Innu for the hunting of threatened caribou populations.
Closer monitoring of industry. Mining and other industrial project activities should be monitored and evaluate by an independent body in consultation with aboriginal and environmental groups in order to ensure their activities don't negatively impact remaining Boreal caribou populations and that they remain in compliance with environmental regulations.
The wealth of knowledge on Boreal caribou held by the NCCs overall membership can be extrapolated to be quite extensive in depth, based on the two days that went into the actual gathering of information for this report. This report has brought to light the variety of troubles facing the Labrador populations of Boreal caribou today and has highlighted many conservation concerns. It has also brought to light many activities that have or may be affecting Boreal caribou presence, that are not traditionally thought about as going on in the pristine wilderness of Labrador, such as the dumping of waste oil illegally and the past killing of caribou by military personnel for sport. Despite all the negatives in this report, however, there are some very clear solutions provided to guide the recovery process for Boreal caribou in Labrador. As one thing is certain with respect to those interviewed: They all want to see Boreal caribou recover back into their former ranges and to a level at which they can once again be hunted.
In the compilation of a national Recovery Strategy for Boreal caribou, the NCC has a number of recommendations regarding the path forward:
The treatment of Boreal caribou as one population across Canada, under SARA and by COSEWIC, is too broad a grouping and will not create an environment for caribou recovery in Labrador. Environmental and socioeconomic conditions vary greatly over such a large area, as do the threats facing Boreal caribou. At a minimum, an approach tailored to each province should be considered.
Translocation projects for Boreal caribou in Labrador should be made a major priority, in order to establish breeding populations of Boreal caribou back into their historical habitat. To facilitate the process, the federal government should make all efforts to minimize the "red tape" associated with such projects, as there is great support for reintroducing Woodland caribou back into their former ranges from our membership.
Due to the fact that Boreal caribou in Labrador range throughout territory occupied and used by multiple aboriginal groups, including the Innu of Quebec, and due to the fact that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is inconsistent in its dealings with and between aboriginal groups, the regulations surrounding the protection of Boreal caribou in Labrador should remain in the Federal domain, with input from an aboriginal body consisting of representatives from each aboriginal stakeholder group. It is felt that currently the number of animals being killed by aboriginals in protests are higher than the number that would be killed in a limited hunt in which each group had input into a harvesting plan, whereby a limited number of kills would be permitted and aboriginals would not be subject to harassment by provincial and law enforcement officers for practicing their aboriginal rights.
Environment Canada should commit to more on-the-ground activities related to Boreal caribou monitoring in Labrador, and make funds available to aboriginal groups for such activities, so that these groups can build and maintain a capacity to consistently identify and deal with threats to recovery on a timely basis. Ideally funds would create a full-time position for one individual within the NunatuKavut Community Council, the Innu Nation, The Nunatsiavut Government, and the Quebec Innu. This person could also serve as a liaison for other Environment Canada activities within the organization.
Appendix A: Maps from Mapping Exercise
Appendix B: Questionnaire Used to Guide Discussion during Boreal Caribou ATK Workshop
Part 1 – Background Information:
- How would you describe the importance of boreal caribou to you and your community?
Part 2 – Mapping Exercise 1:
- Areas that you see caribou use during the winter now and in the past OR are important to caribou during the winter (marker colour).
- Areas that you see caribou use during summer now and in the past OR are important to caribou in the summer (marker colour).
- Areas that you see caribou use during calving now and in the past OR are important to caribou during calving (marker colour).
Part 3 – Range Boundaries
- If there is more than one herd, do they intermix or overlap?
Part 4 – Habitat Use
- Do they use different plants and landscape features at different times of the year?
Part 5 – Population Trends:
- Do you prefer to hunt animals other than boreal caribou such as George River caribou, moose or smaller game? Which ones and why?
Part 6 – Factors that have led to increased/decreased local populations (threats)
Industry and Development
Caribou parasites and disease
Noise and light disturbance
Threats - general
Other observations or beneficial practices
Part 7 – Mapping Exercise # 2
Appendix C: List of Participants
Note: Participant names are redacted due to privacy concerns
- Date Modified: