<< Back
Thursday, Apr 06, 2023

Collaborating with Indigenous communities helps restore habitats and protect species at risk in the Northwest Territories

a Bull Caribou in an open field

Listed as Threatened on the Species at Risk public registry, boreal caribou are an important species, particularly for Indigenous Peoples. Boreal caribou are traditionally harvested for food, ceremony, and tools. In the Northwest Territories, the boreal caribou of the NT1 range (“tǫdzı” in the Tłı̨chǫ language) herd lives south of the treeline and is subject to a variety of human disturbances, such as roads and logging, and natural disturbance, such as wild fire.

The Tłı̨chǫ Highway connects the community of Whatı̀ to Highway 3, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Behchokǫ̀. Previously, there was only a winter road connection between Whatì and Highway 3. Associated served as the Owner’s Engineer for building and operating the new 97 kilometre, all‐season gravel road that was entirely within the NT1 boreal caribou range.

Traditional knowledge was shared verbally, visually, and spatially

The Government of Northwest Territories - Department of Infrastructure, in partnership with the Tłı̨chǫ Government, advanced permitting of the project through the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board and Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. The governments determined that a plan was needed to offset, or compensate, for disturbance to boreal caribou habitat. 

As habitat offsetting is a relatively new concept in the Northwest Territories, the Associated project team presented to Indigenous community members examples of offsetting, how it can be applied, and the types of compensation for disturbance that impact the boreal caribou habitat.

Associated met with representatives from six governments to share ideas and collaborate on the project.

Workshops provided an opportunity to collaborate with Indigenous governments & knowledge keepers

Associated supported the development of the Tłı̨chǫ All Season Road Boreal Caribou Habitat Offset Plan, drawing upon traditional knowledge from Tłı̨chǫ residents, scientific experience, and case studies. Offsetting for boreal caribou focused primarily on restoring old linear features (roads and trails) that were within habitats known to be important to boreal caribou, but not important Indigenous routes.

Biologist, Keenan Rudichuk, explains, “We worked with community members, Elders, and hunters to identify suitable offsetting locations to limit encroaching or disturbing other existing Indigenous needs, such as hunting camp access.” 

Indigenous engagement was critical to the project. Associated led communications in structured, facilitated meetings. Language translators helped ensure traditional knowledge was understood. 

In-person engagement was facilitated using translators and included elders, harvesters, community members, GNWT staff, and Associated staff to communicate the project.

Keenan tells us, “Applying offsets for boreal caribou in the Northwest Territories is inherently experimental; therefore, it was important to establish measurable monitoring goals for both the treatments selected and the response and impacts on boreal caribou and predators.”

The work contributes to climate change mitigation and climate sustainability as the primary offsetting focus is to restore legacy linear and polygonal disturbances by improving or advancing revegetation and secondary offsets focused on restoring historic fire-disturbed areas. Revegetation contributes to carbon sequestration as tree and shrub communities develop over time.

In 2022, the Government of Northwest Territories started developing boreal caribou offset guidance. Components of the Offset Plan will aid other projects with similar constraints, for example, to identify suitable locations for offsetting and select offsetting options and techniques that are economically feasible.

Keenan Rudichuk, R.P.Bio. is a Senior Wildlife Biologist in Associated's Vernon office and focuses his efforts on supporting clients in vegetation, wildlife, and habitat-related challenges. Keenan regularly works on projects in British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. If you require support on wildlife-related issues on your projects, please reach out to Keenan at rudichukk@ae.ca