Lawyers representing the territorial government argued the environment minister was correct in his decision to uphold a caribou harvesting limit in Colville Lake, N.W.T.
Colville Lake is challenging a decision by the territory to set a quota on how many Bluenose West caribou can be harvested each year on its traditional territory.
The community — represented by lawyers from the Colville Lake Renewable Resources Council, Behdzi Ahda First Nation and Ayoni Keh Land Corporation — wants to see a plan that would remove the government's tag and quota system, known as total allowable harvest for the Bluenose West caribou herd.
In its place, Colville Lake would preserve the herd with a plan based on cultural and traditional values and knowledge.
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Shane Thompson rejected the idea of removing the harvest limit.
The hearing lasted three days in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories at the Yellowknife courthouse. It ended Thursday with submissions from Maren Zimmer and Kyle Ereaux representing the government.
The territory's lawyers pointed to provisions in the Sahtú Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim that states harvesting limits would be implemented "if required for conservation."
Zimmer said that the agreement's direct reference to the limits, as well as a clause stating the government has "ultimate jurisdiction for the management of wildlife and wildlife habitat," means the minister was within his authority to uphold harvesting limits and did not breach the land claim.
Ereaux added that the minister's use of "at this time" in his decision indicates he's open to future discussions at a later time.
He told the court that the status quo will stay in place for now, but that Thompson supports the idea of conservation managed by the community and is open to collaborating on a plan moving forward.
Community plan negates need for harvest limits: applicant lawyer
Lawyer Senwung Luk, one of four lawyers for the applicants, emphasised the "if required" section of the agreement. In his response to the territory's lawyers, he said the plan the community is proposing would manage caribou populations without the need for total allowable harvest.
Luk said that the harvesting limits aren't working and that despite the total allowable harvest coming into effect in 2008, the Bluenose West caribou herd is still in decline. He said the community's management plan is consistent with local knowledge and Dene law. It's not "an experiment," or "a shot in the dark by any means," Luk said, arguing against language the Inuvialuit Game Council used in court Wednesday.
He said that conservation goes beyond setting a number to how many animals can be killed. It's about observing seasons and herd behaviours.
Luk said rather than upholding quantities "it's more important to teach young hunters," that, for example, harvesting an animal that's alone in cold weather, might mean that animal is the only one who knows where to get winter supplies and would impact the livelihood of the herd, despite accounting for just one tag.
"If this doesn't work out ... we're left with enforcement," he said, arguing the importance of implementing a plan the community supports.
Justice Andrew Mahar is presiding over the case.
He said he "[didn't] even want to hazard a guess," at when he would render his decision.
"I'll do my best," he said.