Citing a ‘devastating’ population decline of caribou in the western portion of B.C.’s Interior, First Nation leaders said they are implementing an emergency hunting ban on Mountain Caribou in their traditional territories.
Announced Friday, Dec. 13 in a joint press release by the Tsilhqot’in and Ulkatcho First Nations, the hunting ban includes First Nation hunters and non-First Nation hunters alike and is part of an ongoing effort to protect Mountain Caribou in the West Chilcotin, they said.
Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government blamed the government’s ‘mismanagement’ of wildlife resources and industry for the decline.
“They put profit over sustainability and now the caribou are paying the price for that,” Alphonse stated in the joint press release.
“We were notified too late in the B.C. management process to ensure the caribou were being managed properly with conservation values and not just money values taking priority.”
Chief Otis Guichon, Tsideldel First Nation echoed Alphonse, adding conservation of species is very important.
“As stewards of the land we are greatly concerned about the decline of our caribou herds and we are willing to do what it takes to ensure they survive,” Guichon noted. “This includes taking the extra step to protect them by no longer allowing the harvest of caribou for sustenance as our people have done for thousands of years.”
Ulkatcho First Nation (UFN) Chief Lynda Price stated in the press release that her community was opposed to the province’s proposal and caribou management plans to transfer some of the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd to the Purcell Mountains in South Eastern B.C. between 2000 and 2005.
“The reason we did not agree with the transfer was because they had not dealt with the issues that created the decline in the caribou herd there,” Price stated. “UFN were not invited to the planning table to address the decline of the caribou herd in the Itcha-Ilgachuz.”
Price noted that UFN informed the province’s technical working group last week they were not satisfied with the consultation process.
“This herd is located in our territory and we believe that the only productive way of managing this herd and other wildlife in our territory is to implement the UNDRIP legislation and immediately address legislation, policy and regulation pertaining to wildlife management and conservation with our full participation,” Price said. “UFN supports the ban on caribou hunting.”
The Itcha-Ilgachuz herd, which are by far the largest of the three herds, have declined by 86 per cent and continues to decline with approximately 385 caribou as of June 2019.
“If this decline continues the caribou in the Chilcotin could disappear within the next seven years,” the press release noted, adding. “In conjunction with the closure of caribou hunting, the Tŝilhqot’in and Ulkatcho Nations will be working on more effective ways to protect the remaining caribou including better habitat management, disturbance and predation factors through the herd planning process.”
The ban will remain in place until the caribou have recovered to the point sustenance hunting can once again sustainably occur to ensure the conservation and persistence of the caribou in the region.
In an e-mailed response the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development noted that the government respects the decision by the Tŝilhqot’in, Tŝideldel and Ulkatcho Nations to implement a hunting ban to support caribou recovery in the Itcha-Ilgachuz, Rainbows and Charlotte Alplands herds.
“This decision is consistent with action taken by government to not allow licensed hunting. Ministry staff recognize more intensive management efforts are required for these herds,” a ministry spokesperson stated. “Ministry staff have been in recent and active discussions with the Tŝilhqot’in, Tŝideldel and Ulkatcho First Nations and look forward to developing a collaborative recovery plan together.
Guide outfitters did receive a letter from the province regarding the caribou hunt that resulted in closures and cancellations of hunts.
Terra Hatch, a guide outfitter in the West Chilcotin, said as guide outfitters and as hunters, they were told by the government in the spring of 2019 that all caribou hunting was shut down, so no part of the announcement is a shock.
“I am quite happy that the First Nations bands have recognized the severity of the situation and the mismanagement thus far,” Hatch told the Tribune. “The more people with boots on the ground approach, the better. I’ve attached the letter we received in the spring. As such, we had to cancel our booked hunts and send deposits back. And of course we had to cancel our own yearly family caribou hunt.”
Obviously the problem is not with hunting anyhow, but it is an easy thing to regulate and doesn’t make the government any money (to speak of) anyhow, she added.
“I say “obviously” because the regulations were quite strict, which kept harvesting to mature bulls only, and the number actually harvested per year could not have made even the smallest impact on a herd of what was once counted at 2800 animals. I speak to the herd in the Itcha Ilgatchuz area only.”
Perhaps the time for study upon study is coming to an end, and the time for realistic management is approaching, Hatch added.
“And if you don’t believe the very healthy predator population is a major part of the decline, best head on out here yourself and have a look.”