Reports from the land: N.W.T. hunters and trappers describe unusually warm fall

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Reports from the land: N.W.T. hunters and trappers describe unusually warm fall's Profile


Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.


A member of the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee, who describes his job as being the “eyes and ears of the land,” says the late arrival of cold weather in the N.W.T. is “going to have effects, down the line.” 

Allen Kogiak told CBC News a little more than a week ago that ice on the Peel Channel was taking a “long time” to form because of the mild fall temperatures — and that the river was still open in various places. 

But people were already using the “young ice” for travel by snowmobile.

“In my opinion, right now, it’s kind of scary because of all that open water,” he said. “In the past there’s been a lot of drowning, because of people … driving right into the water. Hoping that doesn’t happen this year.” 

Throughout October, the daily minimum temperature in Yellowknife (reflected by the top-most line on the graph below, in red) was on average 4.2 C warmer each day than it was last year (reflected by the line that drops the lowest, in green).

The minimum temperatures were also several degrees warmer than the most recent 30-year average (the straight line, in blue) for each day, as calculated by Environment Canada, from 1981 to 2010.

The Great Slave Snowmobile Association posted its first ice thickness assessment for bodies of water around Yellowknife on Sunday. It said no body of water had reached a thickness of six inches yet — which is the measurement at which the City of Yellowknife says people can walk on it.  

By Nov. 15 last year, all those bodies of water had ice that was more than six inches thick.

The late start to the freeze up has been noticed across the territory. 

“Around here like, the water should be frozen,” said Arthur Elleze, 50, from Fort Providence on Nov. 7. “It’s still flowing, probably still good to go for a boat ride. And that’s really, like, unusual.” 

‘Everybody shot a moose’

Elleze, who hunts and traps for his parents and regularly eats harvested meat, said he’s noticed a change in animal behaviour too. 

“Was a lot of moose this year,” he remarked. “Everybody shot a moose.” 

A woman works on a piece of moose hide. Members of the Dene Nation, including Dene artist Melaw Nakehk’o, travelled to Nain, N.L., to teach members of Nunatsiavut how to work with moose hide in 2019. (Submitted by Melaw Nakehk’o)

Warmer temperatures in northern regions of Canada, brought about by climate change, mean more moose are migrating further north.

Bob Norwegian, a Fort Simpson resident who has helped the territory’s environment and natural resources department with moose counts in the past, has noticed the change too. He said the presence of moose used to follow a pattern, and there would be lots of them every seven years or so. 

“But the last few years … every year, they seem like they’re plentiful.”

Temperatures impact pelt quality

If an unusually warm fall across the territory is the signal for a warm winter, Elleze said it would also impact pelts that are harvested by trappers like himself. A short, warm winter leads to lesser quality pelts. 

“You need the cold weather for the fur to really change,” he explained.

For example, a beaver fur harvested now would be in a state of transition, with a mix of red and brown colour, he said. In the dead of winter though, it would be “really dark, dark brown.” 

Furs from the N.W.T.’s Genuine Mackenzie Valley Furs program on display in the office of Francois Rossouw, a furbearer biologist with the territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (John Last/CBC)

Norwegian, who said he does a “little trapping” for marten in the winter, said if you were to skin a marten in September, the inside of the hide would be black and you would almost be able to pluck out its fur. 

“And then, as it gets really cold and wintry, when you skin the hide, on the inside it’s pure white and when you’re trying to pull on the hair, it’s really, really tight,” he explained. 

“That’s the way they like them.”

Trappers are given a base price for a pelt by a local game warden. Then, if it sells for higher at the fur auction in Ontario, the trapper is reimbursed the difference. Norwegian said a marten pelt would automatically earn a trapper $65 last year. 

Fewer cold days

Norwegian has been keeping a journal every day since the 1970s, where he records temperatures, “how the ice is behaving, and all that sort of thing.”

He’s noticed a change in the climate over the past few decades, and said temperatures seldom got down to -50 F in the 70s. At the time, he said weather temperatures were discussed in Fahrenheit. Canada switched to the Celsius temperature scale in 1975. 

Norwegian said his uncles and his dad were born back in the 1920s, and “they used to get to about 62 or 65 below zero in this neck of the woods.” A temperature of -65 F is the equivalent of -53.9 C. 

CBC News looked at Environment Canada records in Fort Simpson as far back as 1920, and found that the coldest temperature on record was -56.2 C on Feb 1, 1947. 

Here’s how many days temperatures hit -50 C or below in Fort Simpson, by year: 

  • Two days in 1933.
  • Three days in 1934.
  • Two days in 1935.
  • Three days in 1936.
  • One day in 1939.
  • Six days in 1947.
  • One day in 1968.
  • Two days in 1975.

According to Environment Canada’s data, no day has hit -50 C or below in Fort Simpson since 1975.

“[You’re] lucky if you see -42 anymore, for just a couple of days, and then it’s back up to about -35,” said Norwegian. “People figure that’s really, really cold. But it isn’t.” 

A look-out spot from a frosty trail outside Yellowknife on Nov. 3. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Although science points to greenhouse gas emissions as the source of a warming climate, Norwegian doesn’t believe the changes he’s seeing are a human-made problem. Elleze and Kogiak, however, certainly do.  

“I think we’re starting to see the effects of our damage to the Earth,” said Elleze. Pointing to temperatures that are getting “warmer and warmer,” he said “it’s not the way I grew up in the bush … it’s not the same.”

Kogiak, meanwhile, worries about what the future will look like for his five grandchildren. 

“It’s already going full speed with climate change,” he said. 

“The only way we can mitigate it is trying to reduce our footprint.”



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