Skip to content

Evan Saugstad: No moose for me?

It is no secret to the hunting, fishing, and trapping communities, irrespective of race, that successive governments have severely mismanaged how our wildlife resources are managed — some through outright neglect, some for lack of resources and funding.
moose-hunting-in-fire-zones
Evan Saugstad: "Unfortunately, our government has once again avoided an open and inclusive wildlife management process, one that follows science and facts, and instead still favours governing by secret meetings."

In January, to the great surprise and dismay of the B.C. licensed hunting and registered guide outfitting community, the government advertised changes to the 2022/23 hunting regulations for Region 7B (NEBC) and posted for public comment. Thousands of comments were submitted, much was written in the press, and the two local MLAs received more letters, emails, and texts on these proposed changes than on any other topic, ever.

The proposal was to close all caribou hunting and change the general open moose season to a Limited Entry Hunt (LEH) and put all guide outfitters in Region 7B on moose quotas. The advertised intent was to both reduce the number of moose hunters and moose harvest by 50%. Guide outfitters would also see their moose harvest severely curtailed.

Related to this, and of importance to areas outside the northeast, is the province has also proposed to amend the regulations to ensure all northern regions (6, 7A, 7B) have harmonized rules so what happens here happens across the entire north.

For the uninitiated, these restrictions and reductions only apply to persons that are not part of B.C. Treaty 8. Indigenous peoples are not bound by the hunting regulations or limits, only people requiring licenses. It is not known or understood how this may apply to people with Metis heritage that live within the treaty area, but if history bears repeating, the B.C. government will not accord them the same rights as that of Treaty 8 members. It is unknown how this applies to non-Treaty 8 Nations/indigenous peoples living and claiming territory within the affected treaty area.

What is known and been generally conceded by government is that these new rules are not based on science or need for conservation, as moose are still plentiful and under no imminent threat. Government spin is that these changes are based on their interpretation of what Madame Justice Burke said in her precendent-setting Blueberry decision.

For that, I take issue.

For moose, Justice Burke found that Blueberry River First Nation members were having a “more difficult time” finding moose close to their community where they used to hunt, and the reasons for fewer moose related to increased harvest by licensed hunters, more road access making moose easier to find, and anthropogenic change (forest disturbance by fire, harvesting, or clearing for other uses).

She similarly found the same for caribou with the addition of hydro reservoirs also being a contributing factor in their decline.

She made no findings as for moose or caribou populations outside of the core hunting areas of BRFN (rest of Treaty 8), nor for any concerns by other First Nations. She also noted that the BRFN community is almost surrounded by private land (farms and ranches) that make access for hunting difficult, if not impossible.

It is no secret to the hunting, fishing, and trapping communities, irrespective of race, that successive governments have severely mismanaged how our wildlife resources are managed — some through outright neglect, some for lack of resources and funding. Although some wildlife populations have declined severely (local caribou), others have remained stable (moose and northern caribou), but below levels as recent as 20 to 30 years ago. The court case showed that the B.C. government has, other than for caribou, very little to no data to confirm moose, marten, or fisher populations, and the same could be said about most other species, including fish.

There is no scientific data that says moose populations are threatened. No restrictions are proposed for indigenous peoples who have the exclusive right to harvest cows, calves, and bulls year around. Last year, licensed hunters had a one-week season when all bulls were open, then restricted to bulls with specific horn configurations for the remainder of the season, estimated as 25-30% of total bull moose population, and less than 15% of total population.

I do support the Treaty, but also believe that everyone needs to recognize and accept that wildlife cannot be the sole provider of foods for everyone ad infinitum, even if it was only for Treaty 8 peoples. The lands will only support a finite number of animals and that, as human populations increase, the ability for everyone to take part in their harvest will need to be managed accordingly to ensure all species continue to exist. It also needs to be remembered that Treaty 8 was signed at a time when wild game species were in short supply, and when some indigenous peoples were noted as “starving.”

On May 19, after much furor and gnashing of teeth, the provincial government released its “final” determinations on the fate of our moose and caribou, if I can be so bold. Caribou closed and most of Northeast B.C. on moose LEH, about 1950 licenses in total, with some areas having two, two-day general open seasons in late October/early November.

Although I am not against having moose being placed on LEH status for our more easily accessed areas, I do not agree with how LEH are currently allocated, as it gives no preference to area residents who rely on moose as their source of protein.

Unfortunately, our government has once again avoided an open and inclusive wildlife management process, one that follows science and facts, and instead still favours governing by secret meetings with one part of society that promotes their needs at the expense of others, and where those “others” are not allowed to present their case.

As I concluded in July 2019, simply put, this is an important case, and at its conclusion, we all will lose something. There will be no winners. There can’t be. Never thought that government would be openly promoting solutions to make losers out of so many.

A couple years of honest discussions and hard work could have led to better solutions for all.


Evan Saugstad lives and writes in Fort St. John.

Have a story or opinion to share? Email your letters to editor@ahnfsj.ca