If a new proposal from the government of British Columbia is successful, hunters in the northeastern part of the province could soon see their moose hunting opportunities reduced by 50% and the complete elimination of all caribou hunting.
A public comment period for the proposal will end tonight at 12 p.m. PST.
The proposed changes would affect a huge swath of northeastern B.C. known as the Peace Region, which encompasses roughly 22% of the entire province. While much of the area is home to healthy populations of moose and caribou, habitat for these animals has been severely degraded in parts of the region due to large-scale resource extraction authorized by the B.C. Government.
In June 2021, the Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN), an indigenous group with treaty rights in the Peace Region, won a lawsuit against the province of British Columbia that broadened its rights in determining how the government can allow resource extraction activities on its traditional lands. In that lawsuit, a judge in Vancouver determined that, through years of boom-level industrial mining, drilling, and logging, the government of B.C. had infringed on the BRFN’s constitutional rights to “hunt, fish, and trap in a manner consistent with its way of life.”
In Canada, First Nations peoples have the constitutional right to govern their own hunting regulations while licensed Canadian hunters must adhere to regs that are implemented and enforced by the various provincial governments. British Columbia is approximately 95% unceded First Nations territory.
The proposed reduction to moose tags and the elimination of caribou hunting for licensed Canadian hunters is an attempt by government officials to retroactively honor the treaty rights of the BRFN people and atone for decades of environmental degradation brought on by unsustainable mining, drilling, and timber harvesting operations. Critics within Canada’s conservation community say it misses the mark.
“Rather than deal with restoration work, [the provincial government] decided to offer concessions on licensed hunting,” said Mark Hall, a B.C. resident, avid hunter, and the host of the Hunter Conservationist Podcast.
Hall is a retired forester and an environmental scientist with a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of science-based conservation in British Columbia. He says that the proposal by the provincial government of British Columbia to slash moose tags by half and eliminate caribou hunting altogether has caught conservationists throughout the Peace Region by surprise.
“It’s blindsided everybody, that’s for sure,” Hall told MeatEater. “For people across the province that are working on collaborative tables for wildlife management, this was one that clearly came out of left field.”
Opponents of the proposal, like Hall, say it lacks scientific merit and will not have a positive impact on moose or caribou populations, which are strong enough to sustain hunting at current levels.
“The moose populations in most of the areas that this proposal would apply to are very healthy,” Hall said. “They estimate somewhere over 60,000 moose in the entire region, and some of these areas have the highest density of moose in the entire province of British Columbia.”
Hall says that tag allocation adjustments, if they are necessary, should be targeted to address specific sections of the Peace Region, not blanketed uniformly across a unit of this size and scale.
“This is not a reduction in hunter harvest because the moose populations are declining,” he said. “There are a few small areas where the moose populations are apparently not doing as well, but this is a massive geographical area. So there are going to be some areas where they’re not doing as well, just like there’s caribou herds that are endangered while other herds are doing fine, and they have hunting seasons on them.”
Hall says that there doesn’t even seem to be unanimous support among the various nations for instituting the proposed changes to caribou and moose hunting in B.C.
“We can’t speak for the nations, and there’s quite a number of them,” he said. “But the reliable feedback we’ve been getting from the people that are involved in talks up there is that, for some of the nations, this isn’t what they asked for.”
He believes that the recent proposal is a negotiated settlement between the First Nations and the B.C. Government.
“It’s a concession, a negotiation to hopefully allow [First Nations’] consent on industrial projects to continue moving forward until they [the provincial government] figure out how they can start restoring some of these impacts on the land,” he said.
As a stipulation of last year’s court case, all new development on Blueberry River First Nations land has been put on hold. No new authorizations will be permitted until the government of B.C. reaches a settlement with the BRFN.
Hall went on to point out that the B.C. Supreme Court decision that initiated the proposed changes, Yahey vs. British Columbia, made no mention of the impacts that licensed Canadian hunters were having on the region, but was instead intended to address the ecologically damaging impacts of large scale energy development and resource extraction.
“The big thing that upsets a lot of hunters in the province is that in the Yahey decision where they said that the government had done too much industrial development, they didn’t say anything about [the impacts of] hunting,” he said. “It was all about the resource extraction industries—coal, gas, oil, forestry. It had nothing that said they were authorizing too many hunters to be up there. It was just the industrial impacts.”
While doing environmental management work in the natural gas sector, Hall has witnessed firsthand the staggering impacts of industrial development on the landscape of northeastern British Columbia.
“About 25 to 30 years ago, prices were up and a whole bunch of natural gas exploration started, and it was done on a massive scale,” he said. “The province was promoting the industry, they were giving permits, companies were coming in. It was big. I work in that industry. I’ve flown over it, and you can literally see seismic lines that go over the curvature of the earth.”
The phrase “seismic line” refers to corridors cut through a forest and used as critical infrastructure by oil and gas companies to transport and deploy geophysical survey equipment.
“What’s baffled people is that the judge has said you need to fix these industrial impacts on their [the First Nation’s] rights,” Hall said. “And rather than the province saying to the nations, ‘Let’s start fixing this stuff, doing restoration, doing rehabilitation and reclamation,’ they immediately went to saying, ‘Well, let’s cut the resident moose hunters in half.’”
Hall’s son, Curtis, who co-hosts the Hunter Conservationist Podcast and works as a fly fishing guide and wildlife photographer in B.C., sees the recent proposal as part of a troubling trend to omit science from the implementation of wildlife management in the province.
“It’s not a science-based wildlife management decision,” he said. “After we lost the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia due to a non-science based wildlife management decision, we were hoping that wouldn’t happen again.”
The B.C. Wildlife Federation, one of British Columbia’s leading conservation groups, says the reduction of moose tags and the elimination of caribou hunting will deliver a substantial blow to the Peace Region’s economy.
“Licensed resident hunters spend a lot of money at local businesses, including sporting goods stores, restaurants, and hotels,” the organization stated recently in an Instagram post. “This plus the lost revenue from license sales could result in a loss of $14M to $19M per year in the Peace Region.”
As for nonresident hunters, these proposals could affect them too. Folks from outside B.C. are currently allocated about 10% of all moose tags issued in the Peace Region via outfitter quota.
Mark Hall says that whatever changes may come about as a result of the proposal will have to be implemented quickly so that they can be folded into the hunting regulations for 2022.
“The wildlife managers will be taking public comments into consideration and putting together a decision package that will go before the minister of forestry to make a formal decision on whether she accepts or rejects it,” he said. “They have to go through cabinet, get the cabinet’s approval, then get signed off by the lieutenant governor as an order in council, and then they can get the hunting regulations published.”
The comment period for the proposal to slash moose hunting and end caribou hunting in the Peace Region ends today, March 23, at midnight. Concerned hunters can make their voice heard here.
There is also a “virtual roundtable” with local politicians scheduled for March 30. An evenbrite signup page describes the event as “an opportunity for concerned British Columbians to provide feedback to the government’s proposed changes to hunting regulations in the Peace River Region.”
If hunters in B.C. and their allies elsewhere can make enough noise during that process, they may be able to save their opportunities in the Peace Region.
Feature image via Sam Lungren