April 8, 2004
Minister disappointed in Innu response
Ed Byrne, Minister of Natural Resources, said he is extremely disappointed in the response of the Quebec Innu, represented by the Council of the Innus of Uashat and Mani-Utenam, to the province’s concerns of the illegal hunting which has occurred in the Cache River area of Labrador, the habitat for the threatened Red Wine caribou herd.
"They state they will continue to hunt caribou in Labrador in a manner consistent with conservation," said Minister Byrne. "Their past actions indicate that is certainly not their intention. They have already defied the conservation efforts of this province by conducting past hunts in a closed hunting area."
Minister Byrne said the Quebec Innu are attempting to link their protest hunts to their inherent Aboriginal rights but that certainly does not justify the actions which are threatening the dwindling population of the Red Wine caribou. He further stated there are ample opportunities for caribou hunting in Labrador - in the open hunting zones.
"The fact that this government has the support of the Labrador Innu - who not only refrain from hunting in the closed zone but who have also condemned the Quebec Innu actions - clearly indicates this is not an Aboriginal rights issue," stated Minister Byrne. "I say again - this is an issue of conservation. The need to protect the Red Wine herd certainly outweighs all other considerations."
Minister Byrne also took issue with the Quebec Innu claim they were not consulted on government’s decision to close the area inhabited by the Red Wine herd under the province’s Wildlife Act. The range for the herd, part of the woodland caribou population in Labrador, is the Red Wine Mountains and, as far south as the Churchill River.
"We have reached out to the Quebec Innu on several occasions to partner with them and other stakeholders to protect and ensure the future viability of this threatened herd," said Minister Byrne. "I find it extremely difficult to understand why they would state we have not attempted to engage them on this issue."
According to Minister Byrne, members of the Quebec Innu participated in a species at risk stewardship workshop in Labrador in March 2002 where the state of the woodland caribou was discussed. The day following that workshop, there was another meeting attended by the Quebec Innu which discussed issues specific to the woodland caribou.
"Our conservation and wildlife management officials have met on several occasions with the Quebec Innu - prior to and following the closure of the Red Wine habitat," said Minister Byrne. "I am just appalled that they continue to plead ignorance to our restrictions."
Minister Byrne further explained that as part of government’s efforts to conserve this herd a recovery team consisting of wildlife managers, researchers, aboriginal groups and stakeholders
has been established to prepare a recovery plan for this herd. Representatives of the Quebec Innu have been invited on numerous occasions to participate as observers to the recovery team but to date have not agreed to participate. The recovery plan is expected to be completed later this year.
Meanwhile, Minister Byrne said it is anticipated a tracking and monitoring effort will get underway today or tomorrow to determine the impact of this illegal hunt of the Red Wine herd. Due to weather conditions in the area, the department was unable to conduct this investigation earlier in the week.
"We have indicated to the Quebec Innu this government is not prepared to consider their request for a meeting until we have completed our investigation into the status of the Red Wine herd. We are making our best efforts to conduct this investigation as promptly and intensively as we can with the limited resources we have at hand due to the current public service strike," said Minister Byrne. "But our message is clear - we remain totally vigilant and committed to our conservation efforts. We ask for the same approach from the Quebec Innu."
Media contact: Carmel Turpin, Communications (709) 729-5282, 685-4624
2004 04 08 2:50 p.m.