PAGC decries comments from province as dismissive of woodland caribou conservation

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte speaks at a press conference. Herald file photo.

Comments made by a Ministry of Environment official about woodland caribou conservation in Saskatchewan have raised eyebrows at the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC).

While speaking at an industry event in Prince Albert on April 17, Saskatchewan’s assistant deputy environment minister Kevin Murphy said the federal government’s designation of woodland caribou as threatened was “a particular bugbear” for him, and excused himself for rolling his eyes at the subject.

In a follow-up interview with the Herald, Murphy went on to deny that woodland caribou are an important food source for the province’s First Nations people.

The comments were first reported in the Daily Herald.

A press release from the PAGC said leadership is “deeply concerned by the province’s position.”

It went on to highlight three passages of the province’s report. The passages say that caribou do not contribute directly to the economy as it is not a game species, but is an indicator species that represent ecosystem health, express concern that potential emergency orders under the protected species act could “have a significant effect” on northern industrial sectors and that the goal of 2017=’s range plan is to achieve a healthy population by while allowing for continued economic activity.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the council has been involved with caribou work, such as collecting traditional ecological and habitat knowledge from elders.

“It really disturbs me when they say they consider that woodland caribou don’t contribute directly to the economy of Saskatchewan because it’s not considered a game species for which licenses are issued,” he said.

“It doesn’t’ mean that the animals shouldn’t be protected. All animals to the First nations are sacred animals, especially, in this case, the woodland caribou.”

He also refuted Murphy’s assertion that woodland caribou aren’t a food source.

“Saying it wasn’t food source is false. It’s always been a food source,” Hardlotte said. “The two species, the barren ground caribou and also the boreal caribou, the woodland caribou, have always been a food source.”

Hardlotte said he wished the province would have done more consultation before releasing their report.

‘We like to work with the government, but they have to talk to us before they release (things),” he said.

“We’re open for that dialogue. We certainly want to work with both levels of government regarding the species. We want to work with the province to protect this animal.”

That can be done while also balancing economic needs, Hardlotte said.

“It’s a matter of balance,” he said. “Economy is also important. People need to work, our people need to work … and make sure (caribou habitat) is protected. That’s the information we collected, the traditional knowledge. That’s the main thing. We want to protect the animal and work with the province.”