Project objectives: Our goal is to initiate a research program on Bathurst Island to investigate fundamental aspects of Peary caribou interactions with the environment and address local concerns about the impacts of wolf predation on Peary caribou. This year, we want to start to get an idea of the amount of wolf predation on Peary caribou and muskoxen, and identify the proportions of males, females, and calves in the caribou population. We are proposing to do the following work in the spring and summer of 2019:
Spring: Collar up to 10 wolves and conduct an opportunistic composition survey of Peary caribou on the Bathurst Island Complex.
Summer: Visit wolf kill sites to see what prey they are hunting.
Summary of activities and rationale:
Composition survey (spring): Composition surveys give an idea of the number of calves being produced by caribou. This information can help us understand whether the population is growing or decreasing, but it would not tell us how many caribou are on the island. This information can be used by co-managers to determine whether more surveys, such as a comprehensive population survey, might be required.
Composition of caribou groups will be done opportunistically if they are seen while searching for wolves. Once caribou are found, we will use image-stabilizing binoculars to identify the caribou from as far away as possible to minimize disturbance. The helicopter might have to fly closer the group very quickly so that observers can identify caribou sex and age (adult, calf), but we would avoid this as much as possible.
Wolf capture (spring): Wolf numbers on Bathurst Island are largely unknown, but community members from Resolute Bay have raised concerns about wolf predation in the past. We plan to deploy GPS collars on 10 wolves in as many packs as possible. Wolves will be captured by net gun or by dart gun from a helicopter. Collars give the animal’s location every hour through a satellite network. Collar batteries should last 2-3 years on this schedule and will be set to drop off the animal at 2 years. Dropped collars will be collected.
Kill site visits (summer): By identifying prey species at wolf kill sites we can get an idea of how many caribou and muskoxen wolves are eating. We will identify dens and kill sites based on repeated GPS locations in the same place, and visit these sites in the summer by foot or helicopter.
Proposed timing and duration: We hope that this would be the start of a multi-year program. Our work in the spring is planned to begin in early- to mid-April and last up to two weeks. The exact dates are difficult to give at this stage, because they depend on the timing of logistics support and weather. We have provided a start date in our application of March 15 for flexibility.
Summer wolf kill site visits would take place in July and we anticipate being on site for about two weeks. Again, exact dates are difficult to provide at this point as it will depend on availability of aircraft and the schedules of community participants from Resolute Bay. We are requesting permission for access to Nanuit Itillinga National Wildlife Area and Qausuittuq National Park between July 1 and 31.
Work in future years would continue wolf kill site visits and potential redeployment of wolf GPS collars.
Number of personnel: Our spring team would include 2 biologists, 1 community member from Resolute Bay, and 1 helicopter pilot. The summer team would include 3-4 researchers from the Government of Nunavut and 2-3 community members from Resolute Bay.
Method of transportation: All transportation will be by helicopter. Depending on the amount of funding available for the project, total helicopter flight hours would be from 30 to 70 hours in 2019. Fuel caching would be done by Twin Otter.
Fuel use and storage: We plan to cache approximately 15 to 20 drums of Jet B fuel at the Nanuit Itillinga research station in a plastic secondary containment unit. As needed more drums will be brought in to the cache and empty drums will be removed. We plan to have have 205L each of gasoline and diesel cached at the research station for heat and power. We plan to cache an additional 5 drums of Jet B fuel at an existing cache (Dome Camp) in Qausuittuq National park, 5 drums on Cameron Island, and 5 drums on crown land to the north and south of Nanuit Itillinga NWA. All fuel will be cached by Twin Otter in sealed drums. Most fuel and drums will be removed after work is completed in the spring season, with approximately 10-15 left to support summer helicopter work.
Project location: Our proposed project will occur on the Bathurst Island Complex, including Bathurst Island and the major satellite islands: Cameron, Vanier, Alexander, Massey, and Helena. We will work out of the research camp at Nanuit Itillinga NWA and in Qausuittuq National Park. Our project would occur approximately 200 km from Resolute Bay.
Community consultation and involvement: We met with the Resolute Bay HTA to discuss the project in November 2018, and have submitted our project to the co-management committees for both Qausuittuq National Park and Nanuit Itillinga NWA. We plan to meet with these three groups in January 2019. We would involve community members in the project in several ways. We will ask community members from Resolute Bay for help in determining where on the Bathurst Island Complex wolves are likely to be and use this information to help plan the project. During the spring work, we will hire one observer/bear monitor from Resolute Bay. For the spring part of the project, limited space in the helicopter means we can only hire one local observer. During the summer kill site visits we will be able to hire 2-3 research assistants from Resolute Bay. All results will be communicated to the Resolute Bay HTA as soon as possible. We will send monthly reports on wolf activity gathered from the GPS collars to the Resolute Bay HTA.