In honour of National Indigenous People’s Day, here’s a quick look at the Northwest Territories’ proposed innovative Wildlife Act, developed jointly with First Nations communities and governments.
Wildlife management in the North is inextricably tied to aboriginal rights and land claims, to the rapidly evolving relationships between First Nations and non-native communities and governments, and the April 1, 2014 devolution of power from the federal to the NTW government. It is also affected by the rapid march of climate change, and the growing presence of foreign interests as the Northwest Passage becomes accessible. In this very complex, uncertain and unstable legal context, reaching general agreement on a new wildlife management regime will be a significant achievement for all concerned.
The focus of the Bill is collaborative stewardship of wildlife and sustainable harvesting by both native and non-native hunters. In cases of direct conflict, aboriginal hunting rights have precedence.
The Bill claims an ecosystem and habitat based approach that recognizes the interconnection of all living things and the value of biodiversity. It will be subject to land claims agreements and to constitutional aboriginal rights to accommodation and consultation.In many areas, the Bill delegates substantial decision making to co-management boards with substantial or majority First Nations membership, depending on land claims agreements.
A presentation summarizing the Bill and how it has been affected by public consultation is available here. The Bill strives to balance rights and obligations, including a novel section called Proper Conduct On The Land, as well as the usual provisions for permitting Commercial And Other Activities,Conservation And Management Measures and Enforcement.
One NWT innovation worth following everywhere else is to publish a “plain language” version of the Bill, side by side with the official draft, during the public consultation process.
Here are the official principles of the Bill:
“2(1) The Government of the Northwest Territories and all persons and bodies exercising powers and performing duties and other functions under this Act shall do so in accordance with the following principles:
(a) wildlife is to be conserved for its intrinsic value and for the benefit of present and?future generations;
(b) the conservation and management of wildlife and habitat is to be carried out on an ecosystem basis, recognizing the interconnection of wildlife with the?environment;
(c) the conservation and management of wildlife and habitat is to be conducted in an integrated and collaborative manner;
(d) traditional Aboriginal values and practices in relation to the harvesting and conservation of wildlife are to be recognized and valued;
(e) the best available information, including traditional, scientific and local knowledge, is to be used in the conservation and management of wildlife?and habitat;
(f) where there are threats of serious or irreparable harm to wildlife or habitat, lack of complete certainty is not to be a reason for postponing reasonable?conservation measures.”
The Bill is still awaiting third reading and approval. The government has promised that “consultation and public engagement will be ongoing to provide opportunities for input into regulation development and wildlife management decisions.”