Back in our December issue (which went to press in late November), we reported that the “official” numbers from the 2010 census had been released and the numbers weren’t good, with the George River herd then estimated at just 74,131 animals. To put that in perspective, a similar 1993 census placed the same herd at 776,000-plus animals. By 2001, the number was about 450,000.
Bad weather postponed a scheduled 2010 census of the Leaf River herd, which mingles with the George River herd over part of its range but migrates farther west toward the shores of James Bay. It was rescheduled for 2011. At this time, the best guesstimates for the Leaf River herd place the population above 250,000 animals, though it’s clear that this herd, too, is in long-term decline.
The news seemed so dire for the George River herd that Labrador, which shares the herd with Quebec, delayed opening their caribou season in August, based, it appears, on informed speculation that the numbers were going to be bad. When the official results came in early November, Labrador curtailed all non-resident caribou hunting with outfitters, suspended all commercial hunting and the resident license transfer system (which allowed any resident of Labrador to legally transfer their two-caribou license to another resident). Additionally, the allowable harvest was reduced to one caribou per licensed hunter.
Quebec was widely expected to take quick action in December, but a meeting of all the involved parties (Quebec wildlife officials, outfitters, Native leaders) just before Christmas came and went with nothing more than a promise to meet at some future time. As a result, Quebec’s outfitters limped into the show season when, traditionally, most hunts are booked, without any clear idea of what their season would be. Not surprisingly, most (not all, more on that in a minute) outfitters saw fewer bookings for the 2011 season than they might have hoped.....