Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
As you mentioned my name is Evan Walz. I'm the acting assistant deputy minister of operations for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the Government of the NWT.
I'm joined today by Jamie Chambers, head of our field support unit, and Ms. Lynda Yonge, our director of wildlife.
Before I get going I wanted to say thank you to the committee and its staff for their flexibility. We had to bump our dates once and the committee and the staff were very accommodating. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, thank you for the opportunity to share with you our views on the cultural and economic significance of licensed hunting and trapping in Canada.
Wildlife populations in the NWT have sustained people here for thousands of years. Caribou, moose, muskox, bison, polar bear, grizzly bear, black bear and Dall sheep are some of the more prominent game animals found here. As well, there are many species of waterfowl and fish. Bear, coyote, lynx, mink, beaver, marten, weasel, and otter are just some of the additional wildlife that have been and continue to be trapped in the NWT. These species are essential to the health of many people, especially those living in smaller, more remote communities.
As many of you know, the population of the NWT is approximately 44,000 people. About half of those residents have aboriginal or treaty rights to hunt and trap in the NWT. They do not require a licence to exercise those rights. Aboriginal rights holders can also receive a general hunting licence, or a GHL, which allows them to harvest throughout the NWT subject to provisions of land claims as well as laws of general application.
The intent of the GHL is to allow aboriginal rights holders to continue harvesting throughout the territory until such time as all land claims are settled and access is governed through resulting agreements. General hunting licences are available only to aboriginal rights holders, and there are few restrictions on harvesting by those holders.
Mr. Chair, in 2013, 52% of aboriginal people in the NWT over the age of 15 reported that they participated in hunting and fishing, and 17% reported that they participated in trapping. Although the number varies somewhat by size and remoteness of communities, aboriginal communities reported that between 50% and 94% of households obtained 50% or more of their meat and fish from country foods, so you can see how important hunting and fishing are.
All people who do not have an aboriginal or treaty right to harvest in the NWT require a licence to hunt here. Residents who have lived in the NWT for at least 12 consecutive months can obtain a resident hunting licence, which allows them to hunt big and small game. During the past 10 to 12 years, an average of about 1,200 residents purchased resident hunting licences each year. That represents about 8% of the non-aboriginal population over the age of 15.
This number, 1,200, has been fairly steady but represents a decline from the previous 10 years when the average ranged somewhere between 1,600 and 2,200 resident licences sold each year. This drop, we believe, can be largely attributed to the serious decline in the barren-ground caribou herds, one of the major species that are harvested here. The decline may also be linked to aging demographics, urbanization, immigration, changing attitudes towards hunting, a decline in available time given other work pressures, etc.
Between 10% and 30% of households in predominantly non-aboriginal communities report obtaining 50% or more of their meat and fish from country foods. So even in the non-aboriginal communities you can see that hunting and fishing are very important. For many non-aboriginal residents of the NWT, hunting is a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation.
A recent study on the value of nature to Canadians has estimated that residents of the NWT spend approximately $12 million a year on hunting and trapping activities here. People who do not live in the NWT for at least a year can still obtain a non-resident hunting licence, which allows them to hunt big and small game, but they need to access and make use of a licensed guide and outfitter to hunt big game.
There are eight outfitters currently licensed to provide big game outfitting services within the Mackenzie Mountains. Game harvested by non-resident hunters through these outfitted hunts include Dall sheep, moose, mountain goats, wolves, wolverines, and mountain caribou. Meat from the harvest is often distributed to aboriginal communities.
It's estimated that the outfitting hunting industry provides about two and a half million dollars a year to individuals, businesses, and governments in the NWT. It has also been estimated that it employs somewhere between 150 and 170 people as outfitters, guides, cooks, helpers, etc.
I'd like to chat a little about trapping.
Virtually all trapping in the NWT is done by aboriginal rights holders. A special licence to trap can be issued to non-rights holders, but only at the request of an aboriginal community and, typically, for someone living a subsistence lifestyle or providing for an aboriginal family. A non-resident or resident licence does not allow the holder to trap for bears in the NWT.
Over the years, we've seen that participation in trapping is influenced by a variety of factors, including fur prices, employment levels, and other employment opportunities, but more often by the cost of trapping equipment, fuel, supplies, etc.
We define active trappers as those who participate in and sell their furs through a program we have here in the Northwest Territories called the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program. There are some individuals who may operate outside of that program and who trap and use fur for their own use. They would not be captured in the statistics I'm going to walk you through here.
The number of trappers participating in the GMVF, or Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program, for the 2014-15 season was just under 600 at 593. The total value of furs submitted to auction, again for that same season, was about $686,000. Once we add the prime fur bonus, which is an element of the GMVF program, trappers in the NWT received almost $890,000 for that season.
The number of people trapping in the NWT has decreased since the early eighties, but has levelled out to be more stable in recent years, ranging typically from 600 to 740 participants per year. That number has been relatively constant for the last eight years.
One of the greatest challenges to maintaining that number is the availability of economic opportunities and wage employment in some of the smaller communities. In the NWT, trapping as a full-time occupation is now rarely seen. It's often a secondary or a tertiary source of income for households and is often just part of the annual cycle of activities that generate food and income needed to sustain the lifestyle.
I mentioned earlier that market prices often affect trapper participation. By way of example, in 2006 artificially high fur prices, driven largely by China purchasing fur at a premium price, resulted in more trappers participating in the following year in virtually all regions of the NWT. The only exception to that was in the northern Arctic, where the popular species marten was not available for harvest.
Mr. Chair, and committee members, our government operates a number of programs, including trapper training and Take a Kid Trapping, to support continued participation in this lifestyle. As you can imagine, the benefits of this lifestyle often have non-economic value.
In summary, hunting and trapping in the Northwest Territories have very important cultural, social, and economic value. The activities are parts of northern and aboriginal cultures, and they help to connect people to the environment and to the land. They also provide high-quality food, which is linked to better human health in northern communities.
As a government and as a department, we strongly support this activity. We believe it links the land and environment to the health and cultural well-being of citizens.