A group of Innu hunters from the Quebec North Shore were recently prevented from illegally hunting the threatened Mealy Mountains caribou herd in Labrador, according to a source.
The 10 or so hunters were headed to the Birchy Lakes area, about 150 kilometres away from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, when wildlife officers stopped them.
The incident happened earlier this month.
According to a 2009 publication from the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Mealy Mountains herd was estimated at just 2,500 animals and considered threatened under the provincial Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.
Quebec hunters crossing the Labrador border to hunt caribou illegally is a problem that stretches back several years.
Back in 2007, two Quebec men from Pakua Shipi Innu were fined $18,000 each for killing caribou from the Mealy Mountains herd.
Former Labrador wildlife officer Hollis Yetman recalls how serious the problem was in the early 2000s, when caribou poaching near the Quebec-Labrador border was common.
“(The hunting) was significant. In 2003, there was endangered species legislation enacted and that was the catalyst for wildlife officers to have some strength and some backbone … that they could officially charge aboriginals for hunting these threatened caribou herds,” said Yetman.
Protected by wildlife officers
“If it wasn’t for a small, core group of wildlife officers that have had continuity protecting these herds for the past 10-15 years, I would say that the population would be far less than what they are now.”
Yetman is worried a few undetected hunts will be all that’s needed to decimate the Mealy Mountains herd and other woodland caribou.
“Basically, the Department of Justice keeps its eyes over these woodland caribou herds. Right now they’re doing a good job with their limited surveillance. (But) it only takes one or two undetected hunts by anyone and you will cause serious population problems with these herds,” said Yetman.
“The numbers are that sensitive.”
Yetman also feels that conservation efforts are also held up too much by the notion of aboriginal hunting rights.
“I think that the aboriginal right overshadows the need to protect these caribou a lot of the time,” said Yetman.
“The only thing keeping some of these caribou alive is the dedication of two or three of the wildlife officers who keep an eye on them.”
TC Media requested an interview with Justice Minister Darin King, but there was no response by press time, as government offices were closed Monday.
TC media was also been unsuccessful at reaching Pakua Shipi Chief Dennis Mestenapeo.