B.C.’s hunting and wildlife community says politics, not science, is driving the province’s changes to caribou and moose hunting regulations in the Peace Region.
The government announced last week it was scrapping open season on moose hunting in the Peace – traditionally from Aug. 15 to Oct. 31 – and implementing limited entry hunting rules that would include full closures in August and early October. Caribou hunts in the region were closed entirely.
“The hunting regulation changes in northeastern B.C. are an interim measure and part of broader actions to improve wildlife stewardship, uphold treaty rights and enhance habitat conservation,” the Ministry of Forests said in a release.
But wildlife stewardship and habitat conservation aren’t the government’s primary consideration, said Jesse Zeman, executive director of the BC Wildlife Federation.
“It’s politics,” he said in an interview. “And from our perspective, there’s no room for politics in wildlife management… science is what tells us what we can do to help take care of things. And if our government’s not going to listen to that, the future is pretty bleak.”
The government’s statement on “treaty rights” does not explicitly cite the 2021 court case won by the Blueberry River First Nations – but it seems widely believed that the change to hunting rules for the next few years stem from the court case.
The BC Supreme Court ruled that the government had failed to maintain the nations’ rights to hunt and fish by approving a series of natural resource projects in their territory – including the Site C dam – the cumulative impact of which over time violated Treaty 8 rights.
Chief Judy Desjarlais did not respond to a request for comment, but told the CBC she was supportive of the province’s hunting changes. The restrictions mainly affect non-Indigenous hunters, guides, tourists and other residents. First Nations hunters can continue to hunt as part of their way of life, as part of traditional practices, as well as for food and ceremonial purposes.
“We have to be able to manage our territories better, especially when it comes to hunting,” Desjarlais told the CBC. “There (are) a lot of people who hunt for their livelihood and we respect that, but based on the treaty, we haven’t been able to practice our own way of life.”
Zeman said the industry supports hunting changes in areas where cumulative effects of projects were identified by the court, but the new restrictions announced last week also curtail hunting in other parts of the province outside of the court ruling, such as in the Muskwa-Kechika management areas, as well as bighorn ram mountain sheep in the Kootenay region.
“That’s where we diverge from science into politics,” he said. “That’s the broader issue.”
The changes ”are going to have some pretty huge impacts on hunters’ ability to go out and hunt and it’s going to have a huge impact on businesses that rely on hunting,” Zeman added.
Nechako Lakes BC Liberal MLA John Rustad said he and other northern MLAs have been getting an earful from constituents already.
Frustration and tons of emails
“A lot of frustration, a lot of anger, tons and tons of emails,” he said.
“My colleagues’ email boxes are full as well, from people who have traditionally always gone and done this, and now suddenly they are not able to.
“For many families in my riding, they will go out and get a moose and that will be three or four families that will share that meat and it fills up their freezer for the winter.”
A former Minister of Indigenous Affairs under the previous BC Liberal government, Rustad said he too understands the impact of the court ruling, the pressures on wildlife population in certain parts of the province and the need for healthy herds and sustainable hunting practices.
But he said he’d like to see B.C. hunting regulations move toward the kind of resource management it has used in salmon stocks – with guaranteed access for First Nations, but some stock left for commercial and recreational fishing as well, if the health of the species permit.
“Where the numbers are down there needs to be a deal and understanding that all hunters in British Columbia should have a right to access, but First Nations under our constitution they have that first right,” said Rustad.
“But they shouldn’t get it all. There should be an opportunity for all British Columbians to participate, for those who want to hunt.”
The government called the hunting regulation changes an “interim measure” and said it is continuing work on a larger wildlife plan. The province in October 2021 reached an “initial agreement” with the Blueberry River First Nations in response to the court case, with funding of $65 million, and a promise to negotiate long-term agreements on ecosystem-based management.