The provincial government is eying changes to moose hunting regulations in the Peace that would restrict the open season and eliminate limited entry hunting of moose cow or calves for hunters 18 and under.
The proposed changes have not been finalized and would only affect the Peace-Moberly Tract, a 107,000-hectare swath of land stretching from the south banks of the Peace River to the south banks of Moberly Lake.
"This is a proposed change and public input is considered before any regulatory changes are finalized," the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources said in an emailed statement to the Alaska Highway News.
The move stems from a recommendation made by the Site C joint review panel that the province set aside hunting, fishing, and trapping in the Peace-Moberly Tract for people holding aboriginal rights. It also states that the province and affected First Nations should enter discussions on the area with "a view to the harmonious accommodation of all interests in this land."
If approved, the changes would take effect in 2016.
Open season for any bull moose in the Peace-Moberly Tract currently runs from Aug. 15-31. Additional open seasons for younger bull moose (spike-fork and tripalm moose) run at different times in different sections of the tract. A bow-only open season also takes place within the tract.
The proposed changes would see the closure of any bull moose season that runs from Aug. 15 to 31, the implementation of a closure during mating season between Sept. 25 to Oct. 5, a no-shooting area established adjacent to the Saulteau First Nations community, and the closure of youth cow or calf limited entry hunting season within the tract.
"The (tract) is an area of significant cultural importance to the Saulteau and other Treaty 8 First Nations," the province notes in a document outlining the proposed changes.
"With the approval of Site C and the construction-related permits, the province is prepared to propose a series of regulatory changes for licensed hunters of moose within the (tract) consistent with the intent of the Site C Joint Review Panel."
Although the Peace-Moberly Tract is not the only area in the Peace where moose hunting is open, Andy Waddell, president of the Dawson Creek Sportsman's Club, says losing the ability to hunt moose in the tract would be a big blow to resident hunters.
"Right now, I am just getting word out to my members so they can start talking to our MLA and letting him know that we will not accept this," he told the Alaska Highway News.
The club will discuss the new regulations at its Nov. 18 meeting.
When contacted, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier was not aware of the proposed changes and could not comment directly on them. But, he did say that he is a "huge supporter" of resident hunters in the Peace.
"All my friends are hunters, my family, a lot of them hunt, too, so it's something that I support in this area and (this) is something that I'll ask questions on," he said.
Waddell said he supports the adjustment to the closure for mating season, however, the biggest blow from the proposed changes would be the loss of the August open season, followed closely by the loss of the 60 limited entry hunting spots for youth under 18.
That was started as a way to introduce kids to moose hunting, Waddell explained. "It's a smaller animal that they would be able to do some of the butchering on their own with," he said.
"That's 60 kids that won't be able to hunt their moose calf and they'll never get (their experience) because that is the only moose calf season in the Peace River area."
The no-shooting area around Saulteau is also a concern for club members, Waddell says, because they are unclear how large the area will be.
Despite the disagreement with the proposed changes, "there's lots of hunting elsewhere," Waddell said. "We could head south of Dawson towards Tomslake and there is some pretty good moose back in there."
"But, if you live in Chetwynd and you are a second or third-generation hunter, that (could be) gone. It's pretty good moose country there," he added.
Moose hunters in the Dawson Creek area are known to hunt around the Groundbirch and Stewart Lake areas, as well as in Tumbler Ridge, and around the Doe River and Clayhurst areas.
"They're scattered around, so it's not like they are only in the (Peace-Moberly Tract)," Waddell said. "But, that's a big loss."
He also worried about the precedent it would set for other First Nations to set up similar private hunting areas for species other than moose.
"That's almost like a private hunting reserve for the Saulteau Nation," he said. "It will definitely set precedent and what's next?" he asked.
Officials with Saulteau First Nations did not offer comment on this story when asked.