By Sarah Sibley
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
The limited harvest of the Mackenzie wood bison herd ends Tuesday, capping the first season since 2012 in which the Northwest Territories
locals were able to hunt the animal.
Anthrax poisoning killed more than 450 bison from the herd in 2012, dropping their numbers to just over 700 and triggering a territorial pause in the harvest.
Terry Armstrong, a bison ecologist with the Government of the Northwest Territories, says the herd, commonly seen on Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchok, had recovered enough for harvest to resume in a capacity limited.
A 2019 survey determined there were approximately 1,470 animals.
Forty bull bison harvest tags have been issued to Indigenous groups in North Slave, South Slave and Dehcho, to be used between September 1, 2021 and March 15, 2022.
Armstrong said the groups were “very eager for us to hunt this population again.”
The Métis Nation of the Northwest Territories was among the recipients of tags.
Garry Bailey, its president, said he was happy to be able to hunt buffalo again, but said this year’s program hadn’t worked for the group, which represents the South Slave Métis.
“They give us a season, but we don’t harvest in seasons as natives, we hunt all year round, and it’s only four bison they let us get for our 3,000 members,” Bailey said.
Bailey said 100 bison tags would more realistically provide enough meat to make country food more accessible to members of the Northwest Territories Métis Nation and improve food security.
According to Bailey, a defined hunting season doesn’t work as factors like extreme winter cold deter harvesters.
“I think it should stay open to us,” he said. “We only take bulls as they are, so there is no reason for them to have the seasonal harvest. We should be able to pick up the bison when we’re ready to pick them up.
Of the four labels received by the group, Bailey said on Friday that none had yet been used. He said he wanted the season extended, but that request was not met.
“I wish I could negotiate the amount of bison we should be able to take,” he said of future seasons. “We represent three communities and one buffalo per community, it’s not enough, it’s not even enough.
Cabin Radio contacted other recipients of bison tags, including offices of the Deh Gah Got’ First Nation, the Fort Providence Metis Council and the T???ch? Government, but has not received a response.
Armstrong expects the harvest to remain regulated, including a limited number of tags, for some time to ensure herd numbers are high.
An updated aerial count in 2023 will assess herd growth over the past four years. This investigation may lead to an adjustment of tag numbers.
Bailey said the traditional food supply is stretched on several fronts. The factors he listed include the inability to harvest animals in Wood Buffalo National Park, a decrease in moose harvest, and having to travel farther to harvest caribou in the proper area.
“We probably need a week to 10 days to go caribou hunting,” he said.
“Not many people have the time to go do that. Getting caribou is quite rare on our side.
Sarah Sibley is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at CABIN RADIO. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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