British Columbia

Hunters upset over moose hunt closure in B.C. Cariboo

A ban on moose hunting in parts of B.C.'s Cariboo region has upset hunters who say it won't help moose populations rebound as much as other tactics could.

Ban is 'what's easy and looks good instead of what's hard and works,' says B.C. Wildlife Federation

In October 2017 the provincial government announced moose hunting would be closed in two parts of the province's Cariboo region. (CBC)

A ban on moose hunting in parts of B.C.'s Cariboo region has upset hunters who say it won't help moose populations rebound as much as other tactics could. 

"The academics, researchers, ecologists and wildlife managers continue to tell us, and government, eliminating bull only harvest will have little to no effect on moose recovery," said Jesse Zeman, spokesperson for the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

"The scientific advice has been ignored."

Last week, the provincial government announced moose hunting would be closed north of Highway 20 and west of Williams Lake and Quesnel from Oct. 15 to 31, and Nov. 1 to 15.

The closure, recommended by Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development biologists, comes after a request for a moratorium on hunting from the Tsilhoqot'in and Nazko First Nations, who rely on moose as part of their food supply.

In a statement, the ministry said moose populations already in decline are more vulnerable to hunters due to sight lines opened up by this summer's Chilcotin Plateau fire. 

The Cariboo fire centre encountered 271 fires this summer, which burned around 871,036 hectares. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Moose hunters are currently licensed by a limited entry lottery system and only permitted to kill adult male moose.

But Zeman says restricting hunters will have little to no effect on increasing the moose population, as it hasn't been shown to have a positive effect in the past. 

"The resident hunters in the province of B.C., in particular in the Cariboo, have gone from harvesting 3,000 moose a year to less than 600," Zeman said. 

Researchers like UBC Okanagan professor and Canada research chair in wildlife restoration ecology, Adam Ford calls male ungulates, or moose, redundant, saying they don't contribute that much to population growth, because as much as the male can produce sperm they are reliant on the females to produce eggs. 

Licensed hunters are not permitted to kill juvenile and female moose, which are believed to be more important to population management. (Brian Tucker)

Managing landscapes instead of hunters

Zeman says the ban on all licensed hunting, including resident and guided hunters is the government doing what's easy and convenient instead of doing what's right.

"Things like access (for people), invasive weeds, habitat protection and restoration, predator populations, and silviculture practices (the growing and cultivation of trees) all need to be addressed," said said Zeman.

"If we want future generations to see abundant moose populations we are going to have to start to take care of the land."

Causes outside of hunting have been linked to changes in the moose population in the past.

A 2014 government report noted the decline of moose population instep with salvage logging of trees affected by the mountain pine beetle.

Al Gorley, author of Strategy to Help Restore Moose Populations in British Columbia, recommends timber harvesters make room for deciduous browse species for moose to eat, instead of commercial tree species when they set up new timber crops. (Hytest Timber)

Ford says another problem for moose arise when logging companies choose to plant trees with more commercial value like pine, instead of species that would help moose survive the winter.

In a report commissioned by the government, author Al Gorley identified several recommendations to help restore the significantly depleted populations of moose in the province, besides controlling hunters which he says is usually the only tool available to wildlife managers. 

Gorley makes 21 recommendations, including managing the predator population (wolves and bears), restricting road access by people, supporting First Nations in their harvest management, greater attention towards poachers, and protecting habitats, among others. 

The ministry says areas impacted by the ban will be assessed over the winter to decide what levels of sustainable hunting will be available in the future. 

They say other wildlife management options are being developed, including prioritizing areas for reforestation, and wildlife habitat restoration or protection. 

With files from George Baker.

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Cory Correia

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