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Proposed changes to moose hunt not being welcomed

Hunters, businesses will be affected as province looks to cut moose harvest by as much as 50%
271 Road moose
A young moose seeks shelter in the bush next to 271 Road near Fort St. John, June 28, 2019.

A wave of opposition over a proposal by the provincial government to cut the number of moose that can be harvested in Northeast B.C. is gaining steam.

“Honest to goodness, there has not been a bigger issue that has come across my desk. This is even bigger than Covid,” says North Peace MLA Dan Davies. “The number of calls we’ve received in this office. The emails. I think we’re well over a thousand emails alone,” and that’s from across the province, states Davies.

“There’s roughly 29,000 moose tags that are sold up here in the Northeast (designated as Area 7B) only about 5,000 are local,” Davies emphasizes. “I’ve had people call me personally from North Vancouver. This is their trip that he brings his two kids up every fall.”

While they might not always be successful, Davies argues when they are they’re providing for their family and don’t have to buy meat.

“This (government decision) is impacting families. Families are that are living off the land, teaching their children to live off the land and being environmental stewards.”

The government proposal will see the moose harvest for local resident hunters cut by as much as 50% in the Peace-Liard River region, and caribou hunting will be closed across the region for all licensed hunters. 

According to the provincial government, the proposed changes will help Treaty 8 First Nations continue their way of life, and to address a BC Supreme Court ruling last year on the cumulative impacts of development of treaty rights in the region.

The hunting changes are expected to be an interim measure and one part of a broader package of actions specific to improving wildlife stewardship, upholding Treaty rights, habitat conservation, and the future of resource management.

Close to 6,000 residents and their families benefit from the hunt and more than $18 million is generated into the region’s economy, according to a statement issued by the B.C. Wildlife Federation. It contends the allowable moose harvest could be cut to fewer than 650 animals, from a population that can support a sustainable annual harvest of 4,801 to 7,455 animals.

“Ordinary British Columbians who hunt for food are being traded-off in favour of resource extraction,” says executive director Jesse Zeman.

Any reduction, regardless of the percentage, will have a direct impact on businesses that rely on hunting in their bottom line.

Backcountry in Fort St. John is one of those businesses.

“If this is truly a science-based decision and the science is sound, we’re very supportive of that type of thing,” says co-owner Darren Thiel. “At the end of the day, we want the herds to be healthy, we want the animals to be healthy, we want the resource to be there.”

Thiel goes on to say that when they start moving away from science-based decision making and let politics take the lead, it becomes very hard to justify.

One of Thiel’s partners in the business, Tell Szoo, hears the same concerns firsthand.

Szoo is not only part-owner but works behind the counter.

“People are definitely concerned with the lack of consultation. They feel like it’s just being thrown at them,” says Szoo, an avid hunter, who’s also sat in on several public advisory committee meetings. “Something that also has to be cleared up, this is something that is not being asked for by First Nations. This is purely government. There is no user group that has asked for this.”

Davies agrees.

“Let’s be frank, this is not about the science,” reiterates the area’s MLA. “I was just on a call with FLNRO (Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources Operations) who said this is not about the science. It’s a social science decision, and we know that. The reconciliation piece fits into this.”

Davies adds nobody is arguing about the need to reconcile with First Nations but he strongly believes there needs to be balance.

“This is going to cause a huge rift across the board,” Davies surmises. “What we (the opposition Liberals) have been asking, what the wildlife federation, the rod and gun clubs, what everybody’s been asking is to take a pause. Do a proper consultation with the stakeholders who are impacted and find some balance.”

“The caribou issue has been a complete disaster from the start. Thousands of hectares of back country has been closed off to our snowmobilers,” Davies maintains. “People are done. People are fed up.  It’s absolutely the wrong decision to be making right now.”

virtual roundtable with BC Liberal MLAs to discuss the proposed changes to hunting regulations will take place on March 30.

- with a file from Rob Gibson

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