03/12/2012 03:35 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Lynn Lake, Manitoba Caribou Slaughter: First Nations Protest, But Province Says Killing Perfectly Legal

WINNIPEG - Provincial investigators say the killing of dozens of caribou decried by Manitoba First Nations groups last week as wasteful and uncalled for was perfectly legal.

Tim Cameron, the province's chief natural resources officer, said conservation officials looked into the matter immediately after a northern chief discovered the bloody carcasses of 30 animals near Lynn Lake. The officers found the area was a popular butchering site and the animals were killed over a period of time.

Although First Nations chiefs complained about the killing, saying meat was left to rot, Cameron said officers didn't find any whole carcasses that were abandoned.

"Our investigation showed no wanton waste of meat of caribou at all," he said. "It was just skinned hides and heads that were left behind."

Cameron said the winter road is wider where the carcasses were discovered, which makes the spot a good site for hunters to set up camp and to butcher their catch.

First Nations chiefs held a news conference last week to complain about what they said was a wasteful slaughter. They also said the discovery showed that roads weren't being patrolled frequently enough.

Cameron said the province takes its responsibility very seriously and patrols the area, often on weekends when hunters are most active.

Conservation officials have done 14 days of patrols this year and checked around 225 hunters, he said. If hunters don't make every effort to salvage all edible parts of the animal, they could be charged, Cameron said.

"In this case, there was no wastage of any game at all."

Grand Chief David Harper, who represents Manitoba's northern First Nations, said he's pleased the province looked into the matter. But it isn't the first time aboriginals have seen what they feel is wasteful, recreational slaughter, he said.

The caribou may have been hunted over a period of time, but the killings are still wasteful, said Harper, who added First Nations use every part of the animal, from the blood to the tongue.

On top of increased patrols, there should be some way for hunters to pass on parts of the animal that they aren't using to First Nations, who could make more use of the carcass, he suggested.

"We use everything. The elders that saw all those carcasses there, they say it is a total waste. Six families for the whole summer could have eaten from all that waste."

Barren ground caribou aren't considered at-risk, but native leaders say their numbers are declining. Aboriginals still hunt the animals for food and clothing.