Three Indigenous men are facing charges under the Wildlife Act for allegedly poaching a cow moose on traditional ?Esdilagh territory, between Williams Lake and Quesnel, last winter.
Quesnel conservation officer Chris Ford confirmed the men, whose names have not been released, have just been charged with hunting out of season, unlawful possession of wildlife and failure to remove all edible portions.
The charges relate to an incident that occurred on the West Fraser Road Feb. 9 2019 when witnesses allege to have “caught the men in the act” of harvesting the cow moose on traditional ?Esdilagh territory and confronted them, taking their vehicle description and licence plate number, Ford said. The suspects left the area before officers arrived, however, a full investigation has led to the current charges, he noted.
The investigation is the first case resulting in charges against Indigenous persons for hunting on ?Esdilagh traditional lands and is only possible because the ?Esdilagh First Nation and the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service (COS) have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) designed to protect the vulnerable and declining species.
Ford said the relationship between the ?Esdilagh First Nation and the COS is based on a mutual recognition, respect and benefits the moose population in their traditional territory. The men charged in the cow moose case are Indigenous, but not from the ?Esdilagh First Nation.
On June 15, 2018, the two parties signed the agreement which gives the COS the power to charge Indigenous offenders, who otherwise have 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.
At the time Chief Roy Stump said his community members were foregoing their own legal right to hunt moose in an effort to save the troubled population and also pressure the government to ban the fall hunt due to population concerns relating to the 2017 wildfires.
Stump said the MOU was needed to protect the moose, whose numbers are dwindling.
The agreement gives the COS the ability to take punitive action under the provincial Wildlife Act. Two other First Nation communities in the Cariboo Chilcotin also have similar agreements with the COS as they try to protect cow moose.
Ford said in this case, the cow moose harvested was about three months pregnant, and the chief and council wanted the COS to proceed with charges.
“This poaching incident is an excellent example of how we can work together to protect wildlife,” Ford said. “This is exactly why we have a MOU, is to protect the cow moose.”
The COS currently also has MOUs with Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek) First Nation. Ford said the COS is working with two other First Nation governments to develop MOUs with the primary purpose of addressing the illegal harvest of cow moose and hunting practices posing a risk to public safety.
Ford noted in the winter months cow moose are particularly vulnerable as they tend to prefer travelling on roads to avoid deep snow and are easily seen and accessed.
He encourages anyone who witnesses the illegal poaching of wildlife to report it to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277 for investigation.
– With files from the Quesnel Observer