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Conservation and collaboration: rethinking wildlife legislation in the Northwest Territories


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The creation of new wildlife legislation in the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada, took 15 years and over $1.5 million. New legislation comes with new challenges and the drafting of this legislation in the NWT dealt with several complex issues related to wildlife management, constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights, and NWT stakeholder involvement. The end result after multiple attempts was a groundbreaking governmental approach to legislative drafting that would not only help ensure that new legislation helps protect wildlife in the NWT, but would also provide enabling legislation that respects Aboriginal and treaty wildlife harvesting rights and land claim processes, while providing a tool for effective wildlife management well into the future.
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50 The Wildlife Professional, September/October 2017 © The Wildlife Society
When the Government of the Northwest
Territories (GNWT) set out to create a
new Wildlife Act in 1999, it unknowingly
embarked on a 15-year, $1.5 million effort that would
modernize wildlife management throughout this vast
Canadian northern region, and do it in a way that
would promote both conservation and collaboration.
Renowned for pristine ecosystems shared by
predators and prey on land and sea, the Northwest
Territories (NWT) host an array of species that have
been of tremendous ecological and cultural im-
portance here for thousands of years. Its residents
remain passionate about wildlife issues, whether
they are debating who can hunt a species where and
when, or deciding what caliber of ammunition may
be used, or determining how a species should be
conserved and its habitat preserved.
The NWT is massive, but it’s home to barely a tenth
of 1 percent of Canada’s population. Just 44,000
people live in 33 communities scattered throughout
520,000 square miles — an area about twice the
size of Texas. About half our population is Aborigi-
nal, which is reected by our 11 ofcial languages:
English, French, Chipewyan, Cree, Tłįchǫ, Gwich’in,
North Slavey, South Slavey, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun
and Inuinnaqtun.
The Canadian constitution provides protections
for Aboriginal and treaty rights, and a series of
land-claim agreements between the federal and
territorial governments and Aboriginal peoples
has made the GNWT a recognized world leader in
successfully co-managing wildlife resources (GNWT
2009). These agreements, established between 1984
and 2005, set up boards that share wildlife man-
By Robert J. Gau, Christine Glowach and Lynda Yonge
Conservation and Collaboration
A herd of caribou
gathers near the
northern limit of trees
in Canada’s Northwest
Territories. About
twice the size of Texas,
Canada’s Northwest
Territories have 33
communities and four
settled land claim
areas. Creating a new
Wildlife Act for the
region became a 15-year
collaborative eort
to modernize wildlife
management throughout
its diverse landscapes.
Credit: Anne Gunn, GNWT
This reprint has been provided as a courtesy of The Wildlife Society. Copying,
republishing in part or whole, posting online or using it or commercial or
promotional purposes is protected under copyright laws and requires permission
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© The Wildlife Society
agement between government and the Inuvialuit,
Gwich’in, Sahtu and Tłįchǫ. There are also other
Aboriginal organizations in the NWT without signed
land-claim agreements that must be engaged in
wildlife management issues.
Enacted in 1988, the NWT’s Wildlife Act had been
amended over the years, but as these land-claim
agreements progressed, it became apparent that it
was woefully out of date. At the GNWT Department
of Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR),
many of us realized it was time to craft a new act:
one that properly reected the shared management
of our wildlife resources.
The first try
Legislation affecting game management in the
NWT started in 1905 with The Useful Birds Ordi-
nance (Donihee 2000) and, until fairly recently,
all wildlife resources in the NWT were managed
from Ottawa, Canada’s capital, 2,000 miles away
from the NWT capital of Yellowknife. The 1988
Wildlife Act, or WLA, seemed out of step with the
new realities of wildlife management in the NWT;
and, by the late 1990s, it was clear that it needed a
complete makeover. It needed to be reworked into a
comprehensive and enforceable tool that respected
Canadian laws as well as Aboriginal treaty and har-
vesting rights (Donihee 2002).
ENR set out to draft legislation to replace the
Wildlife Act and protect species at risk. It launched
a three-pronged consultation process: consulta-
tion with Aboriginal organizations to ensure their
rights and values were incorporated, meeting with
the public to ensure priority issues for residents
were addressed, and consulting with land-claim
organizations to ensure their agreements were
incorporated. Aboriginal organizations carried out
two rounds of consultations in their communities.
ENR carried out another two rounds throughout
the NWT’s 33 communities.
ENR planned to rst draft a species-at-risk act,
basing it on the federal act (Gau et al. 2007).
Later, we would follow it with a new WLA draft
for consideration. But when ofcials presented the
draft species-at-risk act to land-claims organiza-
tions, they rejected it outright. The process used
to develop it was not in the spirit of the land-claim
agreements, they felt, which are grounded in a col-
laborative partnership. These organizations insisted
on being full partners — not just reviewers — in
crafting any legislation that would affect wildlife
management in their areas. They wanted land-claim
organizations and their lawyers to sit side-by-side
with government ofcials. And they wanted the
government to pay for their participation.
The GNWT refused. The legislation came to a
grinding halt.
A new approach
After extensive lobbying by the land-claim organi-
zations, government ofcials in 2005 agreed on a
new collaborative process to draft species-at-risk
legislation. The four organizations with settled
land-claim agreements would send representa-
tives and lawyers to draft the legislation alongside
government representatives. The four renewable
resource boards established by those agreements
would also sit at the table.
Scrapping the previous draft, they went back to
the drawing board and embarked on intense and
passionate meetings. It wasn’t easy. Two different
world views tried to nd common understanding
and reach consensus. It began as an “us-and-them”
confrontation between Aboriginal organizations
and the government. Eventually though, a trust
and respect developed that allowed the members
to collaborate. Disagreements arose as the group
struggled to put together legislation that would
meet everyone’s needs and conserve wildlife, but
Credit: GNWT
Former Wildlife
Director Susan
Fleck works with
partners in the Gwich’in
Settlement Area in 2009
during the development
of the Wildlife Act.
52 The Wildlife Professional, September/October 2017 © The Wildlife Society
they were handled with respect. Everyone was able
to put their views forward.
After four years of intense discussion, the unique,
made-in-the-north Species at Risk (NWT) Act
went into effect in February 2010. The act estab-
lished a Conference of Management Authorities
to ensure collaboration between all wildlife
management authorities, including those under
land-claim agreements and Aboriginal self-
governments, in assessing, listing, recovering and
managing species at risk.
That summer, the group turned its attention to its
next challenge: developing a new WLA. This time,
the group expanded, inviting in Aboriginal orga-
nizations from regions of the NWT without settled
land claims.
This expanded Wildlife Act Working Group
(WAWG) met regularly throughout the year to
collaboratively draft every word before releasing
a consultation draft by the end of the year. More
public meetings and engagement sessions took
place again in the NWT’s 33 communities. Formal
consultation took place with Aboriginal govern-
ments and organizations that had harvesting rights
within the NWT.
Final challenges
As the legislation reached lawmakers, one
unresolved issue still dogged it. There was no
consensus on a key point: Who should make up
the group that would contribute to collaborative
wildlife management? The legislation planned
to create a Conference of Wildlife Management,
a similar body to the one created in the Species
at Risk (NWT) Act, but exact membership could
not be agreed upon. Should the conference only
include organizations with legislated wildlife
management authority? Should it also include
Aboriginal governments without it? Meanwhile,
some non-Aboriginal NWT residents felt they
hadn’t been adequately consulted.
The bill came up for a vote in the 16
tive Assembly. Lawmakers passed it on its rst
reading and its second reading, setting the stage
for it to go into effect in July 2012. But before
the third and nal reading required by Canadian
law, and just before a territorial election, the
controversial impasse prompted the ENR minis-
ter to withdraw the bill.
In 2012, the newly-reelected minister formed a
10-person Stakeholders Wildlife Act Advisory
Group (SWAAG). Made up of representatives
of the NWT Tourism Association, Chamber of
Mines, Canadian Association of Petroleum
Producers, Barren-Ground Outfitters Association,
Association of Mackenzie Mountain Outfitters,
NWT Wildlife Federation and three licensed
resident hunters, SWAAG was charged with
reviewing the proposed legislation and
recommending changes while the WAWG was
reconvened to resolve the issue of conference
What success looks like
Community meetings resumed throughout 2013
across the NWT, but the issue of conference
membership couldn’t be resolved. Instead, the
conference was replaced with a required an-nual
meeting involving all local, regional and
territorial organizations responsible for wildlife
management to promote cooperative and collab-
orative working relationships.
Credit: GNWT
Campaign materials
like this one promote
the wise use of wildlife
resources in the NWT
now that the Wildlife Act
is in force.
© The Wildlife Society
On Oct. 31, 2013, the WLA passed its third and
nal reading with a commitment to have all the
necessary regulations in place by November 2014.
The WAWG and SWAAG returned to review and
update the regulations as ENR hosted another
round of community meetings.
Nov. 27, 2014 became a major milestone. A new,
collaborative Wildlife Act — the culmination of
an incredible amount of work by many people,
groups and governments — was in force.
It gave us clear provisions that address how wild-
life is to be treated, including a clearer approach
to the problems of wastage and harassment of
wildlife, and legislated principles that determine
how wildlife management is to be approached
and practiced. It established new, higher penal-
ties for wildlife offenses and placed an emphasis
on stewardship and conservation of wildlife and
wildlife habitat, with every provision and every
section collaboratively completed.
The people of the NWT now have powerful,
modern legislation that respects Aboriginal
and treaty wildlife harvesting rights and pro-
vides a tool for effective wildlife management
into the future.
Christine Glowach is the legislation and
legal aairs advisor for Environment and
Natural Resources with the Government of the
Northwest Territories.
Robert J. Gau, MSc, is manager of the
Biodiversity Conservation Section for
the Wildlife Division in the Government of the
Northwest Territories Department of
Environmental and Natural Resources.
Lynda Yonge, MSc, recently retired after
working for the Government of the Northwest
Territories Department of Environmental and
Natural Resources as the director of wildlife.
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