Caribou have fingernails, right?
A CP wire story about the lonely, unloved little caribou, clinging by its fingernails to the tundra and taiga of Labrador and northern Quebec.
February 1992. A few months later, the commercial cod moratorium came into effect.
Labrador native groups are accusing the Quebec and Newfoundland governments of dragging their feet as one of the world's largest caribou herds heads into a steep decline.[Edit: formatting fixed. Credit where it's due, original article reported by Michael Johansen.]
"Nobody wants to be accountable, and meanwhile the finest herd in the world is disappearing," says Peter Penashue, president of the Innu Nation.
"They're saying it's because of natural causes, but what if it's not?"
The George River caribou herd, which ranges across northern Labrador and Quebec, has declined by 20 per cent since it reached a peak of more than 600,000 animals in the winter of 1987-88, says Stuart Luttich, a Newfoundland government biologist.
There is only informal contact among biologists about the state of the herd, he said.
"There's better communication between Alaska and the Yukon (about a herd in that region) than between Newfoundland and Quebec," Luttich said.
"The informal contacts are operating on a very, very flimsy basis."
The Newfoundland government places the blame on Quebec, saying that province walked away from discussions two years ago and has not returned to the table.
"We have never said we were not willing to pursue joint management," says Jim Hancock, director of wildife management with the Newfoundland government.
"It's in the best interest of both provinces to have a common plan, but there doesn't seem to be any commitment on the part of Quebec."
Michel Crete, a Quebec government caribou specialist, confirmed his government is not interested in co-operation with Newfoundland over the George River herd.
"There's no urgent need," he said. "The numbers (of caribou) are sufficient on both sides."
And a regional wildlife director for northern Quebec cast doubts on warnings that the caribou population is in trouble. Claude Despatie says Quebec native hunters have not reported difficulties filling their quotas.
A dozen Inuit commercial hunters in Labrador take about 1,500 animals a year, which are sold for their hides and meat. Another 5,500 animals are taken each year for personal use by natives and other licensed hunters. Up to 2,800 other caribou are lost from poaching and from shots that cripple but do not immediately kill.
Biologists remain divided about the reasons for the recent caribou population decline. Dr. Fred Harrington, a biologist with Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, believes the herd numbers follow a 60-year cycle and the population is now in a natural decline.
But Luttich says that if Newfoundland and Quebec had set up a joint committee to oversee the herd _ as natives have asked _ the population may not have dropped so significantly.
Native leaders say they remain powerless to do something about the slide in population as long as the political bickering continues.
"We haven't been successful in getting the two provinces to talk," says Toby Anderson, land claims director for the Labrador Inuit Association.
"We have the largest herd in the world and nobody cares."