B.C. makes contentious change to moose, caribou hunt in northeast
Reduction of moose hunt, closure of Peace Region caribou hunt is response to Indigenous rights court ruling
B.C. has made sweeping changes to moose and caribou hunts in the Peace Region, a move that has the support of some local First Nations while hunting groups are firmly opposed.
On Thursday, the province announced it would close all caribou hunts in the northeast region of the province while making broad changes to the moose hunting season, including the closure of the hunt during August for at least one year.
The province says the changes are part of advancing reconciliation with local First Nations. They follow a landmark court decision that found B.C. had violated the treaty rights of the Blueberry River First Nations.
In June 2021 the Yahey v. British Columbia court decision upheld Blueberry River's 2015 claim that years of extensive industrial development in the region violated their rights under Treaty 8.
The court said the province failed to maintain the nation's rights to hunt, fish and trap without interference. While no single project had a devastating effect on the community, the court said the cumulative impact of a series of projects limited the nation's ability to maintain its rights.
'We haven't been able to practice our own way of life'
The new changes to the moose and caribou hunts is part of a greater plan to maintain the health of the herds along with upholding treaty rights.
"To support reconciliation and improve wildlife stewardship and habitat conservation," said the Ministry of Forests in a release.
It said the final decisions were "informed by extensive engagement with the public, First Nations, the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia and the B.C. Wildlife Federation."
Members of Blueberry River have spoken out in support of the decision while noting that other First Nations in the area were also consulted.
"We have to be able to manage our territories better, especially when it comes to hunting," said Blueberry River First Nations Chief Judy Desjarlais. "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."
In March, Desjarlais and other members of the nation were threatened with death over the proposed changes.
RCMP have been investigating the threatening voicemail left with the nation, while Desjarlais and other public figures denounced the threat.
She said it did not deter the nation from negotiating with the province over its treaty rights.
"First Nations have to do what they have to do, and that's protect the treaty rights," said Desjarlais.
Opposition from hunting groups
However, conservationists and members of the hunting community who have been firmly opposed to the changes since they were proposed months ago said the province's decision is a substantial overstep that could put guide outfitters out of business.
Jesse Zeman, executive director with the B.C. Wildlife Federation, says the regulations are too broad and don't adequately address issues raised in the supreme court ruling about the "cumulative effects" of industrial development.
"The province has made these changes across the entire region, including places where there are no cumulative effects," said Zeman, noting that the rules will apply to extremely remote hunting locations only accessible by float plane or horse back.
"Rather than dealing with issues around cumulative effects — oil and gas, logging, Site C — instead, they said we're just going to get resident hunters out of this area," he added.
Advocacy group the B.C. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said the changes are misaligned with B.C.'s own current wildlife data, which "show an abundant moose population in the region and a sustainable harvest rate for both moose and caribou."
"Science is not playing a role in the outcome of wildlife conservation in B.C.," said Zeman. "The province has nuked significant parts of the landscape in the Peace."
"Hunting regulations are not going to fix these problems," he added.
B.C. wildlife regulations are reviewed every two years. The province said these recent rules are an interim measure that will be reviewed after the season.