Past Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board Wildlife Projects
Since the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) was established, we have been involved in various wildlife projects within the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA). Some of these projects have been completed and provided valuable information for management of wildlife in the GSA and abroad. Following is a list of some of the most valuable projects done in the past.
- Mountain Caribou Survey in Northern Mackenzie Mountains
- Fall Movements of Porcupine Caribou Herd near Dempster Highway
- Boreal Woodland Caribou in Lower Mackenzie Valley
- Movements & Distribution of Boreal Woodland Caribou in Sahtu, Gwich’in and Inuvialuit Settlement Areas
- The Northern Richardson Mountains Dall’s Sheep Camera Trap and On-The-Land Observations Pilot Project
- The Northern Richardson Mountains Dall’s Sheep Habitat Ecology Project
- Dall’s Sheep, Grizzly Bear and Zhoh Wolf Project
- Furbearers Community-Based Monitoring
- Grizzly Bear Observations Along the Dempster Highway
- Waterfowl Research in the GSA
- Rat River Biodiversity, Cultural and Historical Assessment
- Gwich’in Traditional Knowledge: Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population, Grizzly Bears, Nèhtrùh (Wolverine), Bluenose West Caribou
Mountain Caribou Survey in Northern Mackenzie Mountains
In 2000, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) undertook research into mountain vadzaih (caribou) in the northern Mackenzie Mountains by utilizing aerial surveys and ground classifications. In two aerial surveys, 450-550 vadzaih were observed in mixed groups of 20-100. The groups were located along the front mountain ranges between Cranswick River and Ramparts River. The ground survey observed 546 vadzaih with 360 successfully classified (ratios of 45 calves per 100 cows and 200 bulls per 100 cows). The study also discusses the low harvest levels of vadzaih, generally secure habitat, endangered species rankings and future research.
Fall Movements of Porcupine Caribou Herd near Dempster Highway
Porcupine vadzaih (caribou) is the most important traditional food for subsistence by harvesters in the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA). Thus, to keep their populations healthy, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) researched their annual fall migration to their winter range, focusing on where they must cross the Dempster Highway southwest of Fort McPherson. Hunting practices in the area have created controversy and affected the herd’s traditional migration routes. This controversy is based on concerns that shooting the lead animals may cause the herd to change migration routes and possibly abandon their regular winter ranges.
Boreal Woodland Caribou in Lower Mackenzie Valley
Between April 2002 and the end of March 2003, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) and GNWT Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (now Environment and Climate Change) conducted a study into woodland vadzaih (caribou) in the Lower Mackenzie Valley close to Tsiigehtchic. In 2004, the University of Alberta joined the project. The study was implemented due to the lack of scientific knowledge available, the threats to vadzaih habitat from oil and gas development, the potential for road and hydro development, increased tourism/human activity, forest fires and climate change. Results of this program provided the GRRB and its co-management partners information on seasonal movements, habitat use, resource selection and relative probability of vadzaih occurrence within the study area.
Movements and Distribution of Boreal Woodland Caribou in Sahtu, Gwich’in and Inuvialuit Settlement Areas
The Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) and the GNWT Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (now Environment and Climate Change) implemented a project to collect baseline ecological information on the boreal woodland caribou. To date, minimal data has been collected on the species in their northern range. Traditional knowledge on the caribou was also gathered. Data accumulated will be useful in both research and management of the species.
The Northern Richardson Mountains Dall’s Sheep Camera Trap and On-The-Land Observations Pilot Project
In 2014, after a historical low number of divii were counted in the aerial survey, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) approved management actions from the draft Northern Richardson Mountains Dall’s Sheep Management Plan. Two of these actions were to create a community-based monitoring program and to gather this population recruitment annually. A workshop was held in Aklavik with the GRRB, Environment and Natural Resources (now Environment and Climate Change) and the Ehdiitat Renewable Resource Council to determine how best to address these management actions. It was decided that a pilot project would be implemented. In 2015, a team installed two remote cameras by Chigwaazraii (Black Mountain), about 40 km southwest of Aklavik. These cameras took pictures of passing divii (Dall’s sheep) with the hope that classification and count could be done once the pictures were retrieved. In addition, some community members with cabins along the Husky channel received scopes and during the summer of 2015, observations of divii were recorded from people’s cabins. Results of this pilot project were mixed. Observations from cabins provided limited results due to the distance to the mountains, making classification hard. However, pictures from the cameras showed potential. In 2017, results from this pilot program allowed the creation of a new program, the Divii (Dall’s Sheep) Community-Based Monitoring Program (see our Current Wildlife Research & Monitoring section for a description).
The Northern Richardson Mountains Dall’s Sheep Habitat Ecology Project
Divii (Dall’s sheep) are found in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska and British Columbia. Within the Northwest Territories, divii have populations in the northern Richardson Mountains and the Mackenzie Mountains. This study focused on the northern Richardson Mountains population. Divii are hunted for subsistence purposes by Gwich’in people within the northern Richardson Mountains and are a valued species for sport hunting in North America. The divii population within the northern Richardson Mountains is an isolated population that increased in the 1990s and rapidly decreased in the 2000s. This three-year project, completed in winter 2005-06, provided information on divii-habitat relationships, such as seasonal range, movements, possible corridors and a description of seasonally-selected habitat, of which there is currently limited information. Additionally, the information can be useful in the development of any future co-operative interjurisdictional management plans to ensure the sustainable management of the Richardson Mountains divii population.
Dall’s Sheep, Grizzly Bear and Wolf Project
Divii (Dall’s sheep) in the Richardson Mountains have declined steadily from around 1997 to 2014. Several hypotheses have been postulated to explain this decline, from climate change to diseases, predation, competition with other ungulates, habitat loss and human disturbances. Together, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB), the Renewable Resources Board, Environment and Climate Change (Government of the Northwest Territories), and the University of Alberta investigated the causes of the decline, with an emphasis on the impact of shih (grizzly bear) and zhoh (wolf), two common predators in the northern Richardson Mountains. The project which started in 2006 and finished in 2009 monitored the three species simultaneously in the study area and aimed to:
- acquire baseline information on divii, shih, and zhoh populations
- increase our understanding of divii predation by shih and zhoh
- evaluate the impact of climate change and habitat characteristics on the interactions between the three species
- determine the impact of other ungulate species abundance and distribution on divii predation
Additionally, this study documented the Gwich’in Traditional Knowledge about the interactions between divii, shih and zhoh. Methods used to complete this project included GPS collars, fatty acid signatures and stable isotope analyses, behavioural observations of divii and interviews with harvesters and elders on divii, shih and zhoh interactions. Results of this study can be found in our Publications section, in Catherine Lambert Koizumi’s PhD thesis.
Furbearers Community-Based Monitoring
Who: Ehdiitat, Gwichya, Nihtat and Tetlit RRC, Brian Dokum and Catherine Lambert (GRRB)
When: Fall and Winter 2006-2007
Where: Traditional and used hunting and trapping areas in the GSA, as determined by select users
It has recently been suggested in some communities that beavers may interfere with muskrat populations by deteriorating muskrat habitat quality. As there is currently no monitoring system in place to estimate furbearer abundance and distribution in the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA), this assumption is difficult to assess. Moreover, since the end of the Gwich’in Harvest Study, very little information has been collected for other furbearer species, such as martens, fishers, otters, wolverines, wolves, foxes and lynx. To verify the interactions between beavers and muskrat and to gain baseline information on the other furbearer species of the GSA, we propose to launch a community-based monitoring program. We will allocate four GPS in each community, which will be distributed to active land users (hunters or trappers). Those land users will record their observations of beavers and lodges, muskrats, martens, fishers, otters, wolverines, wolves, foxes and lynx, as they travel on the land and perform their usual hunting and trapping activities. This project will result in the creation of a multi-species database on distribution and abundance of furbearers in the GSA and will provide some insights related to the interactions between beavers and muskrats.
Grizzly Bear Observations Along the Dempster Highway
Concerns are often expressed about shih (grizzly bear) behaviour along the NWT/Yukon border on the Dempster Highway. This area is intensively used to hunt Porcupine vadzaih (caribou) and often, gut piles are left behind. This attracts shih and some have become accustomed to this sporadic source of food. This results in numerous human-shih conflicts and concerns about safety. In the early 2010s, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) led a research project looking to reduce shih and human interaction on the Dempster Highway in a 104 km region overlapping the NWT/Yukon border. This project involved trips into the field for surveys and training a community member to monitor the highway for vadzaih gut piles, talk with highway travellers and record observations. Pamphlets were developed and distributed in the communities of the GSA, all the way to Dawson City. Pamphlets were used to collect information on shih observation along the Dempster Highway. Hundreds of pamphlets were collected until 2017. As of 2022, data gathered has not yet been analyzed.
Waterfowl Research in the GSA
Many waterfowl are an important food source in Gwich’in culture. In addition, the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA) contains wetlands that are among the most important breeding sites for white-winged fowl in North America. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) helped initiate and/or fund several research projects on waterfowl in conjunction with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (now Environment and Climate Change) and Ducks Unlimited. Studies uncovered valuable baseline information which helps in management plans and future research.
Rat River Biodiversity, Cultural and Historical Assessment
In 1999, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB) conducted a biodiversity and cultural assessment (traditional and historical use) of the Rat River watershed after the four Gwich’in communities of Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik identified it as a proposed protected area for its wildlife and cultural significance. The Rat River watershed area has been used for centuries as an important harvesting area and travel route. Along with many cultural sites, numerous camps also exist along the lower Rat River. Fishing, hunting, trapping and berry picking are still carried out today. The study also identified the area as home to hundreds of species of plants, fish, mammals and birds.
Gwich’in Traditional Knowledge: Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population, Grizzly Bears, Nèhtrùh (Wolverine), Bluenose West Caribou
Several reports of Traditional Knowledge on wildlife species have been published in recent years by the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute with the collaboration of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB). These project summaries can be found in our Traditional Knowledge & Research section.