Plummer’s have a remarkable responsibility as custodians of our environment. For example, Great Bear Lake is truly a jewel to planet earth. Our leadership in the industry has resulted in us operating all the lodges on Great Bear Lake. A lake the size of England, which boasts 60 million citizens, and we are the only lodges on her shores.
As leaders we have always been ahead of the regulations when it comes to conservation and our final step in 2001 to implement a strict catch and release policy with no fish being sent out of the lodges was years ahead of the governments conservation requirements.
One true success of maintaining the best trout fishery in the world has been the prevention of any commercial fishing in Great Bear Lake and the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. The most enjoyable success from our conservation policies is watching our guests that have fished these waters for decades enjoy better fishing than they did before we implemented them. No other place on earth does a small group of anglers over a couple of summer months produce lake trout over 60 pounds with what can be called ‘some regularity’!
We must also continue to be diligent in the protection of the short yet dramatic and surreal char producing river, the Tree. The Tree River continues to produce giant Arctic Char with those in the 25 – 30 pound range becoming ever more frequent over the last decade since we implemented our policy that no fish leave. With impressive improvements in replica mounts the choice is clearly to put the 30 pound char back in the water after some quick measurements and photos and hang a replica on the wall. It is a achievement to have maintained and improved such a remarkable fishery that has intrigued biologists since we began fishing it all the while in a fragile, harsh and grudging part of the world.
Plummer’s began taking our clients hunting for Caribou and Musk Ox in 2002 and took the same approach that we always have to fishing. By our methods the hunting could only get better. This is true because we have managed the herds and the hunts in such a way that our hunters get animals for the record books every year we hunt.
One of the things that we realized about the hunts was that even though our partnership with Great Bear Lake Outfitters, which is the entity owned by the local Sahtu aboriginals that is granted the tags, is entitled to so many musk ox and caribou tags every year, we knew from experience that the limits set out may not be best for the health of the herds.
The limits we set for ourselves are set around our knowledge of the animals and the observations we have been making in the field long before we began outfitting for hunting. There have been years that we have decided not to hunt at all and we usually only permit up to six hunters for Musk Ox out of 18 available tags.
Caribou hunts have been equally carefully managed but the government has enacted some emergency measures to address the apparent decline in the herds that apply to all people in the vast migration route of these iconic animals. We do our part at this time by providing all the observations that we make in order to improve the outlook for the animals.
Our environment in the Arctic has many ways of causing us to be friendly. One of the ways in which the environment itself encourages us to look after it is by being so stunning and so untouched. It has also made us aware of how fragile it is after 60 years of observation.
We are always learning and there is no place I have been on earth that teaches the three R’s better than the Arctic.
Simple. If we can get the job done without it we do. This is because getting ‘it’ in the first place has its inherent challenges up here. We recognise this as a good thing for the planet and we have taken this approach to our consumption even though our guests are never without anything that they need to make their trip outstanding. That is an accomplishment. The striking example is that we have managed to heat our staff quarters at the largest of all the lodges, that straddles the tree line, entirely with wood, and have never needed to cut down a live tree to do so. All the while we continually improve the stunted forest floor in terms of wildfire hazard. How? Good old fashioned hard work removing deadfall by hand.
Again, this is a no brainer when the nearest hardware store is 400 miles away and there is no road to get you there. I find the knack that is developed for reusing material and items is learned and perfected up there but I notice it most when I am down south and see the contrary in people’s every day lives. For example, an all season radial tire may start out on one of our vehicles but when the punctures can no longer be repaired we insert a tube into the tire and put it into light duty on a trailer moving groceries and luggage. Once the condition exposes the tube to be routinely chaffed by gravel the tire may find itself at its final resting place hanging from the dock providing protection to boats and airplanes. This is an example of what is the rule of the north.
The ultimate example of a creative recycling idea was when we began our pilot project to bring young pigs up north and feed them all the leftovers including heaps of pancakes from breakfast, lots of baked potato peels, stale bread, carrot peels, Red River cereal, spaghetti, and more. Oddly, no cookies have ever made it into the pig’s bucket. We had been composting the food for so long but there is really no use for the compost in the short time that we are up there and our green house efforts have not been fruitful due to the quality of the 24 hour daylight. With this pilot we can roast a pig once a week as a result of recycling the leftovers and it results is a great conversation piece when the ‘Sustainable’ one of a kind Arctic pig rotisserie machine enters the yard!
More conventionally, we go to great efforts and include staff incentives to divert all of our pop and beer cans as well as bottles and glass, flying them to the facility in Yellowknife on the empty leg of a supply flight. Coffee cans, on the other hand, live long after storing coffee in the reuse category filling the needs of guides as flyout tackle containment, boat bailer, pee bucket, cigar butt receptacle, and especially shop hardware organizers.
No matter how you experience the north and its abundant unspoilt expanse, it is energy intensive. We are so far removed that in order to maintain our facilities with 24 grid quality electricity we have to generate power by burning fossil fuel in our generators. We began exploring alternatives several years ago starting with the intuitive solar power that one would expect great yields from up in the Arctic in July and August under the Midnight Sun. As it turns out the intensity of the solar energy and the angle of attack are such in the north that efficiency of solar voltaic conversion is miniscule.
Wind is also not a consideration at most of our facilities as it is generally very light at the land water interfaces where our lodges are all located due to the contrast of very warm light air on the land and the relatively dense and cool air on the water. This is another counter intuitive realization. The solution we began to employ in 2002 and have been adapting to each lodge situation was a surprise to us but has been able to cut our power generation fuel requirements by over 70%. This will result in reducing the carbon emitted by the lodges by nearly a tonne per day of operation once the solution is employed company wide.
The solution came about when researching the typical things we think about when we talk about alternative energy. We carefully monitored our electricity use at each facility from moment to moment and quickly identified one large but short in duration peak demand period, one smaller and short in duration peak and one larger and slightly longer one. No prizes for guessing that the peaks were breakfast, lunch and supper. With some system modification we were able to install a battery bank that charges during the run up to peak and the run down from peak at breakfast, shuts the generator down after breakfast and runs the camps on the batteries through the slight peak at lunch and starts the generator up for the run up to supper when it continues to run until the batteries are fully charged to take the camp through the night.
Improvements to what we are doing in the north are ongoing and while we have come to discover that there are no ‘off the shelf’ products that apply to our unique environment we are adapting things to allow us to solar preheat water as well as scavenge heat from our other process like electrical generation and incineration and we have installed hot water on demand heaters.
In 2001 we invested in four stroke outboard technology that resulted in a realized decrease in carbon emissions of over 30% across all 75 boats collectively at all the lodges we operate across the arctic. We followed that investment with technology in our fleet of aircraft by retiring the legendary DC-3 and put turbine engines on our two otters.
We have strived in all our operations to include measures of social sustainability. The hunt in particular provides us an opportunity to partner with local aboriginal communities and individuals. All meat from the hunts that is not taken by our hunters is delivered to the communities to assist the elder members of the community and alleviate some of the need of the people to spend massive resources on helicopters and such for the annual subsistence hunts. The partnership also allows for proceeds of the hunt to flow to the community and we make every effort to provide employment opportunities.
Our lodges are spread over great distances and so there are three aboriginal communities that we support through various partnerships and contributions.
Deline, on Great Bear Lake is our partner in several lodges and in our hunting operation on Great Bear. We also provide support financially to youth and community causes.
Lutsel’ke is the nearest remote community to our Great Slave Lake lodge and we have a partnership with local entrepreneurs there to provide caribou hunts on the tundra between Artillary Lake and the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.
We have been consistently successful in attracting the Inuit of Kugluktuk to our Tree River camp on the Arctic coast of Nunavut to work as guides on the Tree River and to help us in the lodge in housekeeping and kitchen tasks. We have an arrangement with the Inuit people to ensure that their community benefits from the tourism visits to the area which in turn helps protect the fisheries from commercial fishing. We also signed a joint venture agreement with the Inuit people to operate the air field that Plummer’s built at the Tree River so that the people will again receive benefit from their traditional lands.
Our relationships with the remote communities of the north have revealed one compelling gap that we try to address in the social sustainability arena. The impact of financial support and providing food and sundries when we have the opportunity is gone as quickly as it they are consumed. We struggle to find interested and qualified people to employ in the adventure tourism business and it is clear that we need to do more on the ground to foster success in this way. We began in 2003 to mentor individuals from aboriginal communities such as Deline, Kugluktuk and Lutsel’ke at a tourism management level so that they could get an overview and internal view of the workings of these sophisticated logistical operations and perhaps bring those skills back to their communities to develop and maintain local tourism products. While the challenges in finding local people to provide mentorship to has continued to prove as difficult as employing local people, it was not without perseverance that we built Plummer’s Arctic Lodges and it is with that perseverance that we continue to tackle the difficult social sustainability challenges of the north.