An organization that represents more than 45,000 resident hunters and anglers in B.C. is complaining that the provincial government left it out of negotiations concerning the allocation of moose licences in the traditional territory of the Tsilhqot'in First Nations.
In a statement, the BC Wildlife Federation says a deal the Tsilhqot'in National Government signed recently with the government will reduce the number of bull moose available to resident hunters. Local aboriginal hunters, who in B.C. don't need hunting licences, will not be cut back in overall harvest numbers but will take fewer cows and calves in the hope of stabilizing the moose population.
BCWF spokesman Jesse Zeman said resident hunters in past years have been allowed to harvest about 250 moose in the region, but that is being cut to 170 this year, a decline of more than 30 per cent.
"According to government, the Tsilhqot'in have agreed to shift their harvest from cows and calves to bull moose with the difference made up by reducing the number that resident hunters may utilize," Mr. Zeman said in a statement
"The BCWF finds it objectionable that the proposal was derived through government-to-government consultations while shutting out other major stakeholders," he said. "This approach creates conflict between people who live in British Columbia, and fails to adequately protect and enhance wildlife."
Mr. Zeman said mule deer, sheep, caribou and moose populations have all been in decline in the Cariboo region of central B.C., where the Tsilhqot'in recently won a landmark court case giving them control over a large area.
Last week, the B.C. government signed a reconciliation agreement with the Tsilhqot'in political leadership, which calls itself the Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG). Under that deal, the province will provide the TNG with $10-million over three years to help implement the accord. The deal sets out provisions for managing the economy, health, education, justice and the environment. It also includes a moose-recovery strategy as a key part of the deal.
"As far as we're concerned, this is a huge part of our agreement," said Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the TNG. "For years, our communities have always wanted more say [over moose allocations]. We've been hollering for changes to the hunting regulations."
He said moose populations are down about 75 per cent in Tsilhqot'in territory, and B.C. resident hunters, who can come from anywhere in the province, need to be restricted.
Mr. Alphonse said local aboriginal hunters are voluntarily reducing hunting efforts in some places where moose numbers are extremely low.
"We are trying to find where all our moose have gone," he said. "We are in crisis mode."
Mr. Alphonse said the TNG want to work with B.C. resident hunters on the problem and he has invited the BCWF to come to a meeting later this week to discuss moose and other wildlife issues.
"We want other groups to come in and work with us and come up with something [to help moose]," he said. "The whole ecosystem is out of whack and we've got to get things back to as normal a state as we can."
Mr. Alphonse said the moose-hunting restrictions are part of a larger effort that will include a full inventory of wildlife – hunters may be encouraged to take bears and wolves because predators are increasing in the region while prey such as moose and deer are in decline.
In an e-mail, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the hunting restrictions were being brought in "to ensure the long-term stability of local moose populations."
It said the government liaises with wildlife stakeholders throughout the year "and worked hard to ensure their interests were reflected in the [Tsilhcot'in] agreement."