Shúhta Ɂepę́ are of critical cultural and subsistence importance to the Dene and Métis peoples of Tulı́t’a and Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories, and to the Ross River Dena across the mountains in the Yukon Territory. Ice Patch studies have revealed archaeological artifacts and biological specimens that demonstrate the deep relationship between Shúhta Ɂepę́ and Shúhtagot’ı̨nę (Mountain Dene), dating back nearly 5,000 years. Though not scheduled for assessment by the NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC) until 2019, Northern Mountain Caribou were recently given an upgraded NWT General Status Rank of ‘Sensitive’. The federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada designated Northern Mountain Caribou as a species of Special Concern in 2014, reflecting the growing risks presented by climate change, habitat fragmentation, and other pressures.
Though scientific knowledge of the Shúhta Ɂepę́ population structure is limited and the so-called “Redstone herd” is typically classified as a single population, Shúhtagot’ı̨nę knowledge indicates that specific subpopulations in their traditional territory are gravely at risk, and urgent action is required. This community-driven stewardship planning initiative presents an opportunity to break new ground in piloting an innovative collaborative approach to conservation that accounts for the intersection of culture and biology (adopting a rigorous “biocultural” approach), bringing together northern indigenous people from two territories and addressing pressing challenges in mine development as well as existing conflicts about harvest access among indigenous communities.
The impacts of visitors in the Dechenla area, the Mackenzie Valley Review Board Environmental Assessment of the Howard's Pass Access Road Upgrade Project, and the proposed amendment to the Sahtú Land Use Plan following the creation of the Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve present growing risks for fragile Shúhta Ɂepę́ populations. The development of a stewardship plan for this species of central importance to Sahtú and Ross River peoples is therefore incredibly timely, and serves as a focal point that will inform these and other broader land and resource management issues, including the management of cumulative effects on Shúhta Ɂepę́ and their associated habitat. This initiative will contribute to development of a collaborative Shúhta Ɂepę́ Stewardship Plan with delegates of the SRRB, Tulı́t’a Dene Band, Tulı́t'a and Norman Wells RRCs and Ross River Dena Council. Sahtú delegates previously attended a July 2014 meeting hosted by the Ross River Dena Council in Ross River, Yukon, to discuss concerns about the Shúhta Ɂepę́ population in the Dechenla/K’á Te (McMillan Pass/Canol) area. At this meeting, a joint caribou stewardship planning process was committed to, and has begun anew starting with the Shúhta Ɂepę́ Stewardship Plan Scoping Workshop in Tulı́t’a in Fall 2016, to be followed by a Summer 2017 meeting in the Dechenla/K’á Te (McMillan Pass/Canol) area, right in the middle of the caribou habitat under discussion.
Team members, partners and collaborators
- Deborah Simmons, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board)
- Leon Andrew, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı
- Frederick Andrew, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı
- Tulı́t’a Dene Band
- Tulı́t’a Renewable Resource Council
- Norman Wells Renewable Resource Council
- Ross River Dena Council
- Stuart Cowell, Co-Director of Conservation Management
- Tee Lim, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - Northwest Territories Chapter
- Heather Sayine-Crawford, GNWT Environment and Natural Resources
- Norman Barichello, Dechenla Lodge
GNWT Environment and Natural Resources, Tides Canada - Full Circle Foundation, NWT Species at Risk Stewardship Program