If a new British Columbia government proposal is successful, hunters in the northeastern part of the province could soon see their opportunities to hunt elk reduced by 50% and the complete elimination of all caribou hunting.
A public comment period for the proposal will end tonight at 12 pm PST.
The proposed changes would affect a large swath of northeastern BC known as the La Paz Region, which encompasses approximately 22% of the entire province. While much of the area supports healthy populations of elk and caribou, the habitat of these animals has been severely degraded in parts of the region due to large-scale resource extraction authorized by the British Columbia government.
In June 2021, 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 expanded their rights to determine how the government can allow extractive activities. of resources on their traditional lands. In that lawsuit, a Vancouver judge found that, through years of booming industrial mining, drilling, and logging, the British Columbia government had violated BRFN’s constitutional rights to “hunt , fish and trap consistent with their lifestyles.”
In Canada, First Nations peoples have the constitutional right to govern their own hunting regulations, while licensed Canadian hunters must comply with regulations implemented and enforced by various provincial governments. British Columbia is approximately 95% unceded First Nations territory.
The proposed reduction to moose tags and 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 caused by unsustainable mining, drilling and logging. operations. Critics within Canada’s conservation community say it misses the mark.
“Instead of dealing with the restoration work, [the provincial government] decided to offer concessions on licensed hunting,” said Mark Hall, BC resident, avid hunter and host of the Hunter Conservationist Podcast.
Hall is a retired forester and environmental scientist with a keen understanding of the inner workings of science-based conservation in British Columbia. He says the British Columbia provincial government’s proposal to cut elk tags in half and eliminate caribou hunting altogether has caught conservationists across the Peace Region by surprise.
“He’s shocked everyone, that’s for sure,” Hall told MeatEater. “For people across the province who 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 won’t have a positive impact on moose or caribou populations, which are strong enough to support hunting at current levels.
“Elk populations in most areas this proposal would apply to are very healthy,” Hall said. “They estimate there are more than 60,000 elk in the entire region, with some of these areas having the highest density of elk in the entire province of British Columbia.”
Hall says that labeling adjustments, if needed, should be targeted at specific sections of the La Paz Region, not uniformly across a unit of this size and scale.
“This is not a reduction in hunter harvest because elk populations are declining,” he said. “There are some small areas where moose populations apparently aren’t doing as well, but this is a huge geographic area. So there will be some areas where they won’t do as well, just like there are herds of caribou that are in danger of extinction, while other herds are fine and have hunting seasons.”
Hall says there doesn’t even seem to be unanimous support among the various nations for instituting the proposed changes to hunting caribou and elk in British Columbia.
“We cannot speak for the nations, and there are quite a few of them,” he said. “But the reliable feedback that we’ve gotten from people who are involved in the talks is that for some of the nations, this is not what they asked for.”
He believes the recent proposal is a negotiated agreement between First Nations and the British Columbia Government.
“It is a concession, a negotiation to allow, hopefully, [First Nations’] consent on industrial projects to continue advancing until [the provincial government] figure out how they can start to restore some of these impacts to the land,” he said.
As a stipulation of last year’s court case, all new development on the Blueberry River First Nations land was put on hold. No new authorizations will be allowed until the BC government reaches an agreement with BRFN.
Hall went on to note that the British Columbia Supreme Court decision that initiated the proposed changes, Yahey v. British Columbia, did not mention the impacts licensed Canadian hunters were having in the region, but instead intended to address damaging ecological impacts. of large-scale energy development and resource extraction.
“The big thing that bothers many hunters in the province is that in the Yahey decision where they said that the government had done too much industrial development, they did not say anything about [the impacts of] hunting,” he said. “It was about the resource extraction industries: coal, gas, oil, forestry. He had nothing to say that they were authorizing too many hunters to be there. It was just the industrial impacts.”
While doing environmental stewardship work in the natural gas sector, Hall witnessed firsthand the staggering impacts of industrial development on the landscape of northeastern British Columbia.
“About 25 or 30 years ago, prices went up and a lot 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 entering. It was big. I work in that industry. I’ve flown over it and you can literally see seismic lines running through the curvature of the earth.”
The phrase “seismic line” refers to corridors through a forest that are used by oil and gas companies as critical infrastructure to transport and deploy geophysical survey equipment.
“What puzzles people is that the judge has said that it is necessary to repair these industrial impacts on their [the First Nation’s] rights,” Hall said. “And instead of the province telling the nations, ‘Let’s start fixing these things, restoring, rehabilitating and reclaiming,’ they immediately said, ‘Well, let’s cut the resident elk 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 BC, sees the recent proposal as part of a worrying trend of ignoring science in the implementation of fly management. wildlife 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 an unscientific wildlife management decision, we hoped that would not happen again.”
The BC Wildlife Federation, one of British Columbia’s leading conservation groups, says reducing elk tags and eliminating caribou hunting will deal 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 recently stated in an Instagram post. “This plus the loss of revenue from the sale of licenses could result in a loss of $14 million to $19 million per year in the La Paz Region.”
As for non-resident hunters, these proposals could also affect them. People from outside of BC are currently allocated about 10% of all elk tags issued in the Peace Region through vendor quota.
Mark Hall says that any changes that may come as a result of the proposal will need to be implemented quickly so that they can be incorporated into the hunting regulations by 2022.
“Wildlife managers will take public comments into consideration and put together a decision package that will go to the forestry minister for a formal decision on whether to accept or reject it,” it said. “They have to go through the cabinet, get cabinet approval, then get the lieutenant governor’s approval as an order in council, and then they can publish the hunting regulations.”
The comment period for the proposal to reduce elk hunting and end caribou hunting in the La Paz Region ends today, March 23, at midnight. Concerned hunters can make their voices heard here.
There is also a “virtual round table” with local politicians scheduled for March 30. An eventbrite registration page describes the event as “an opportunity for concerned British Columbians to provide feedback on the government’s proposed changes to hunting regulations in the Peace River region.”
If the hunters in BC and their allies elsewhere can make enough noise during that process, they may salvage their chances in the Region of Peace.
Featured Image via Sam Lungren