Starting the first of next year, the sport hunting of migratory caribou will be indefinitely suspended in Quebec and Labrador. This measure was announced by Quebec’s minister of forests, who cited “sustainability of the species” as the reason for the hunt closure.
Sport hunting of the George River herd was closed in 2012 due to the significant decline in numbers. Since then, the Leaf River herd has been the only one to sustain sport hunting and Aboriginal harvesting in Quebec. According to an inventory carried out in the summer of 2016, Leaf River numbers have also continued to decline and the herd now comprises less than 199,000 animals. According to Quebec sources, this number is 50 percent less than the caribou numbers reported in 2011.
In a follow-up press release, the Quebec Outfitters Association (QOF) expressed concern about the closure and the resulting serious economic blow to Northern Quebec. According to the QOF, in 2014 the 20 outfitters offering caribou hunts generated $13 million in economic development and provided 250 jobs.
The QOF, apparently skeptical about the caribou population numbers cited by the Quebec government, raised a number of questions that it says have not been answered. They are: “What happened to the hundreds of thousands of caribou that disappeared since 2011, notably 100,000 during the past two years? How does one explain that neither guides, nor hunters, nor outfitters themselves have discovered any hides or carcasses during the months they operated on the land and during the hundreds of hours overflying the Northern Quebec territory?
Given the fact that the native communities in Quebec and Labrador apparently have not had their caribou harvest quotas decreased by government closures, some are questioning whether the sport hunting ban is as much political as it is biological.
The respective Canadian governments have pledged to establish committees and task forces to study and evaluate the caribou population issues, including likely economic consequences.
The outfitters association, for its part, has also pledged to remain active. QOF will participate in the government exercises and work with government authorities in finding ways to stem the caribou population declines. Says QOF, “We also hope that MFFP ( Quebec minister of forests) and the native communities will adopt rigorous measures controlling the harvest of caribou.”
In the January and February issues of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, columnist Mark McCollough, a caribou hunter and professional wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will be filing additional articles on this important issue.