Heading into the forest in his traditional First Nations territory both west and east of the Fraser River south of Quesnel, ?Esdilagh First Nation (Alexandria) band manager Chad Stump says there is a noticeable lack of moose.
The Cariboo First Nation is worried about the drastically declining population due to hunting and the effects of wildfires. This is why ?Esdilagh has reached out to the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service (COS), and will sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the law enforcement body on Friday (June 15), which will put ?Esdilagh members under the COS’ jurisdiction when it comes to hunting moose.
“We are signing on with the Conservation Office to help benefit population growth. That’s our ultimate goal,” says Stump.
?Esdilagh First Nation is foregoing its legal right to hunt moose in an effort to save the troubled population and pressure the government to ban the fall hunt.
On June 15, Chief Victor Roy Stump will sign the MOU in ?Esdilagh’s community on the west side of the Fraser River. Also in attendance will be Tsilhqot’in National Government’s stewardship manager Luke Doxtator, and representatives from the COS including Chief Conservation Officer Doug Forsdick, and Sgt Andy Mackay and Insp. for the Thompson-Cariboo region COS Len Butler, who have both been involved in many of the discussions with the band.
The agreement will stand for one year, after which it will be jointly reviewed.
B.C. First Nations have the constitutionally protected rights to hunt, fish and trap in a number of circumstances. First Nations are also exempted from the application of the provincial Wildlife Act in certain circumstances. But the MOU will change that for ?Esdilagh members.
The agreement will give the COS the ability to take punitive action under the provincial Wildlife Act should an ?Esdilagh First Nation member hunt cow moose. If a band member is found harvesting a cow moose, a COS investigation will occur, just as it would for non-First Nations hunters.
“We would then advise the band council, and there would be a decision whether we look at going through a restorative justice process, in which they would take on that process with the band member. We have found that to be very successful, and of course we are part of that process as the investigating officers,” explains Butler.
“If for some reason the band member did not want to go through that restorative justice process, we would take direction and go to a normal prosecution through the province.”
Band manager Stump says the MOU is a “landmark agreement,” but the First Nation is no stranger to banning moose harvesting for its own members. In 2017, the First Nation chose to ban cow and bull moose harvesting in ?Esdilagh territory for band members. Stump says the initiative was a success.
“Only one moose was harvested [in our territory], and it was not by our members. As First Nations people, we have the right to hunt moose. But due to the wildfires, the population is too small and declining. We decided to take it a step further, to work closely with the COS and their staff. By signing this MOU, we will have to follow the restrictions they put in place.”
“Between Sgt Andy Mackay and the band, they’ve done some great work,” says Butler.
“For the COS to work with the band is fantastic. At the end of the day, everyone is on the same page protecting the moose.”
?Esdilagh is the first of the six nations connected under the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) to sign an agreement, and Stump hopes the others will follow suit.
“We imagine the rest of the nations will come on board, and they just need a leader. ?Esdilagh is leading, and we want no moose harvesting at all. We’ve had positive feedback from the other five bands,” he says.
“The number one step for us is stopping moose harvest for ?Esdilagh and leading the way for local First Nations, whether they be Carrier, Shuswap, Tsilhqot’in communities. We have to step up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We can’t keep hunting. That puts pressure back to the government, saying – ‘We cant keep giving out tags if the First Nations have stopped hunting.’ We have to take a stand for the moose population.”
Butler agrees, and says the COS is working on putting together an overall MOU for the five remaining Tsilhqot’in bands, working with TNG’s Doxtator. Doxtator said Wednesday that something is in the works for “the very near future.”
“I think it’s great that one of our communities has taken jurisdiction over an important resource such as moose, making their laws on what they want to see for their members to ensure the sustainability of moose for future generations. To make a move like this speaks volumes,” says Doxtator.
The MOU to ban cow moose hunting in ?Esdilagh territory will mean other First Nations groups coming into the area will also not be allowed to hunt cow moose either.
“If the band restricts the hunting of a cow moose in their territory, that does make it illegal,” says Butler.
“?Esdilagh will not give visiting First Nation individuals permission to harvest moose within their territory. I have a feeling, just from experience, that will be some of the investigations we embark on.”
And ?Esdilagh hopes to take things even further.
“The bull moose might still be open, but not to ?Esdilagh. ?Esdilagh members still feel strongly that there should be no moose harvest at all by anybody, whether First Nations or non-First Nations. There’s not enough moose left,” Stump asserts.
Cow and calf moose (also referred to as antlerless moose) hunting is only permitted for non-First Nations in one small area of the Cariboo region, east of Quesnel Lake. Bull moose hunts are usually permitted across the region, but this year’s hunt is still up for debate.
The B.C. Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) Regulations Synopsis 2018-2019 was published in April by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, with bull moose hunts for the fall in MU 5-01 (Canim Lake/100 Mile House area), MU 5-02 B and C (150 Mile House to Horsefly, Moffat Lake and Quesnel Lake areas east of Williams Lake) as well as MU 5-13 A, B, C and 5-14 (west and north of the Fraser River between Williams Lake and Quesnel) all listed as TBD, or to be determined. The government is in the process of reviewing populations to determine whether an LEH draw will go forward in the region.
“While wildfire can have beneficial impacts to wildlife, we are assessing whether increased sight-ability will be a factor in hunter success on a precautionary basis,” a spokesperson told Black Press in April.
“Last year, they did give some tags out in ?Esdilagh territory for moose,” says Stump. “We had a big push back on that. Its looking like, from my feeling and from what I’ve heard from local authorities, that they might decrease the number of tags they give out, but we haven’t had confirmation yet.”
Stump believes an overhaul of the LEH system is needed, and is in talks to implement an LEH system for ?Esdilagh members.
“The system in place doesn’t work for us and we don’t approve of it, and we want to put some options on the table where if there has to be a moose harvest, let’s do it a different way. We are keen on no moose harvest until something is in place.”
But banning moose hunting for ?Esdilagh members has and will continue to have an effect on the nation’s ability to thrive, and the band is being proactive to support its members.
“A family of five could use one to two moose a year. If ?Esdilagh has 215 band members, you do that math. That’s a lot of moose.”
The band will continue to hunt deer, which has a healthy population in ?Esdilagh territory, but are more expensive to hunt, as members must go out more. The band has also taken up initiatives to provide food resources including pork, beef and fish from neighbouring nations to their members.
“Hunting deer is time consuming, it costs more in transport. Having to buy from a store in town is also expensive. We are not in a position that we have many people working for top dollar. We have bare minimum wages in ?Esdilagh, and a lot of people have the added 30 minutes of travel [after the road closures due to flood damage on West Fraser Road].
“It’s a big impact to the community, not being able to hunt moose. But it will be a big impact to not be able to hunt moose at all in 20 years if they are not there.”
COS’ Butler says the agreement with ?Esdilagh will help the body have better control over what’s being harvested.
“We have to give ?Esdilagh credit: it’s a small band that stood up and said they are going to do this. That gains a lot of respect from the COS and the community.”
-With files from Angie Mindus