British Columbia

B.C. First Nation calls for moratorium on hunting in Cariboo after wildfires

Nearly 800,000 hectares of scorched land in the Cariboo has the Nazko First Nation willing to forgo a season of traditional hunting to support the rehabilitation of deer and moose populations.

'A lot of families are worried about how they'll make it through winter'

The Nazko First Nation has suspended its hunting activities and is calling on the province to stop hunting in the region until wildlife numbers can be assessed. (Submitted by Trevor Blackler)

A First Nation in British Columbia's Cariboo region is calling for a moratorium on hunting until officials can confirm sufficient numbers of wildlife have survived the wildfire season.

Chief Stuart Alec of the Nazko First Nation is concerned that wildfires in his traditional lands in the Cariboo Chilcotin region may have dramatically reduced the number of moose and deer.

"A lot of families are worried about how they'll make it through winter," he told Stephen Quinn, guest host of The Early Edition.

The Nazko have survived as traditional hunters on their ancestral land for thousands of years with moose, deer and salmon as staple proteins.

Alec said most of the community has been evacuated to Quesnel for weeks, while some remain on the First Nation's main reserve, west of Quesnel.

Already in decline

The Cariboo Chilcotin has had 11 fires of note since early July which have caused a number of evacuations, a temporary ban on backcountry travel and burned 783,699 hectares of land.

A herd of wild horses was recently reported burned to death by the neighbouring Tsilhqot'in First Nation and wildlife rescue organizations in B.C. have reported increases in the number of rescues this summer.

First Nations, scientists and government have previously raised concerns about the impact of timber harvesting and forestry roads on moose populations.

The government increased the annual allowable cut in the region by 65 per cent to allow salvage logging of the trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, which led to more roads being built and increased logging in moose habitat.

"We don't know if there are enough moose left to allow for hunting this fall," said Alec. "The deer seem to be in abundance, they move a bit quicker out of the way."

The provincial government requires that hunters report any moose kills in that region and report to a compulsory inspection facility with the animal, but numbers have continued to dwindle after years of increased logging activity and forestry, according to government surveys.

Provincial regulations outline moose in the Cariboo region can only be hunted through a limited entry hunting lottery while limits for whitetail deer are two per season, one for black tailed deer.

Fire retardant may harm fish

Wildfires near Williams Lake, B.C. Nearly 800,000 hectares have burned in B.C.'s Cariboo region. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

On top of the anxiety surrounding the annual hunting season, this year's salmon returns have been dismal, said Alec. 

"We'd be preparing [salmon] right now, there'd be a lot of dry racks and canning go on," said Alec.

Salmon are susceptible to liquid fertilizers found in fire retardant and ammonia compounds found in retardant can kill aquatic life if not diluted.

"The worst scenario would be a small static pond and a direct hit with an aircraft drop," reads a fire retardant product information sheet. 

In B.C., most retardant is dropped on the forest because it's effective on fresh vegetation such as grass or trees.

Provincial guidelines follow U.S. standards to keep retardant at least 100 metres from any waterway, but wind, human error or the need to save a structure means sometimes that doesn't happen.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition