Algonquin community calls for moose hunting moratorium in Quebec wildlife reserve
Algonquins of Barriere Lake say the moose population in the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve is in decline
Concerned about the decline in moose throughout their traditional territory, members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake have taken the issue into their own hands.
Since the start of moose hunting season in the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve on Sept. 9, community members have set up two camps along junctions into the park, and on Wednesday slowed down traffic to advise hunters of their concerns.
"We're making sure our presence is felt. We want to be seen. We want to be heard, and we want to be practising our right to hunt," said Chief Casey Ratt.
The wildlife reserve encompasses 12,589 square kilometres about 300 km northwest of Montreal; the band's reserve Rapid Lake is located right in the middle of the wildlife reserve. Ratt said his members have seen the moose population decline rapidly in the last few years.
In August, they called on the Quebec government to issue a moratorium on sport hunting in the park until a survey of the population can be done in the winter when the forest is less dense.
"We do know what we're talking about when we say there's no more moose. We want to be taken seriously," he said.
According to Société des établissements de plein air du Québec, the government agency that manages the park, moose hunting is limited by quota in the wildlife reserve and is subject to a random draw for 245 group permits over a six-week period in the early fall. On average, 96 moose were harvested annually in the last three years with a hunting success rate between 37 and 45 per cent.
The current regulations for the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve are based on the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks' inventory data. But Ratt said the data from 1994 is outdated and doesn't take into account the possible effects of climate change or disease. He said it's getting more and more difficult to harvest 20-25 moose to sustain the 400 members who live on-reserve.
Pierre Dufour, the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, met with the community twice last month to discuss their concerns.
He said in a statement that a new aerial inventory must be completed to obtain a complete picture of the situation before any changes to the conservation and management plan can be made. The survey is being planned for 2020, and the ministry said it wants to work closely with Barriere Lake and other Algonquin communities to improve knowledge of the resource.
"This working meeting will help define the foundations for a harmonious coexistence approach in the territory, particularly in the context of moose sport hunting," said Dufour.
Unsatisfied with the province's response, the Algonquin community decided to make their presence known throughout the park for the duration of the six-week hunting season.
"Our diet consists of moose meat and wildlife. We depend on it," said Charles Ratt, a councillor and hunter.
He and his wife Tina Notty were among a group who spent Wednesday slowing down traffic to hand out pamphlets with other community members.
"We've been keeping it peaceful, just trying to get the information out there," he said.
For Notty, moose are an integral part of her family and nation's survival.
"Everything that happens to the land, we're also doing to ourselves. This is why it's important for us and our children to be here," she said.