Topics of Interest

Presentation to the Minister of Environment on Moose Hunting Regulations – Region 5 (Cariboo-Chilcotin)

Presentation to the Minister and the MLA on October 20th in Victoria B.C.
By: Jacques Drisdelle and Garth Lee,  Region 5
BC Wildlife Federation,
Wildlife Committee Member
108 Mile House, BC

Honourable Minister, Member for Cariboo Chilcotin, and Wildlife Branch staff:

Thank you for this opportunity to express our concerns re moose hunting in Region 5 (the Cariboo Chilcotin).

Minister, what we want from you in the final analysis is an independent assessment by qualified experts of the regulatory environment applying to moose management in Region 5 (Cariboo Chilcotin).

My family has lived here for 34 years and before that we lived in northern Ontario. The first solid food that my children ate when they graduated from milk pablum and baby food was potatoes, vegetables, and moose meat and we still enjoy it immensely.

Description of the Problem

Your regional managers have been giving us a very hard time here recently with a protectionist, preservationist style of managing moose.  They are partially supported in this by the guide-outfitters and some Natives as it tends to keep us out of the bush and at home.  Only those that are awarded an LEH tag can hunt and unfortunately for us, up to 70% of these draws go to BC residents from other Regions (mainly the lower mainland).   As a result some of us wait for five to ten years for a draw.   We understand that the resources of this Province are available to all residents and that is the way it should be.  What we don’t understand is that it does not seem to concern your staff that the number of moose hunters in the Cariboo (Region 5) has declined by 70% over the past 25 years.  They are unwilling to consider a more liberal and conservationist type of management such as the highly successful examples in B.C.’s Region 7A (Omineca) and Region 3 (Thompson Nicola) and in Ontario.  We think that your staff in Williams Lake is much too conservative to a fault.  According to the number of guide-outfitters who are appealing their moose quotas here, it seems that even they are unhappy with the way moose are being managed in Region 5.   Appeals are time-consuming and take much needed staff time away from fish & wildlife management.   There are no appeals in Regions 7A or 3 (Omineca or Thompson Nicola) where management strategies are superior to ours and where staff therefore has more time to do the real  job of wildlife management.

The main differences between Region 5 (Cariboo) and the others mentioned are that Region 5 (Cariboo) over-reacts to Native rights, while the other Regions realize that their resident hunters are also important and try to maximize harvest and participation by them.  Regions 7A (Omineca), Region 3 (Thompson Nicola) and Ontario realize that it isn’t good enough just to do a good job for their Natives and their guide-outfitters.  They go the extra mile for their resident hunters by making sure there are opportunities to go moose hunting even if they don’t get an LEH draw, thus enabling them to hunt every year if they wish, thereby enhancing interest in an annual activity as is the case for non residents and Natives.

There is no need to favour the non-residents or the Natives over us as there are enough moose in the Cariboo (5) for everyone, particularly if they are managed properly.  There should be an LEH cow harvest as well as an LEH bull harvest which would greatly improve the bull to cow ratio.   Cattle ranchers do not  retain their cows past the age of 8 years and don’t have animals as old as 16 to 20 years that need to be fed all winter.  Moose should be handled in a similar way by controlling the cow population which is what is done in 2 regions of B.C. (Omineca and Thompson Nicola) and in Ontario.  In each of Region 7A (Omineca), and Ontario there are open seasons on calves that coincide with the cow LEH.  The open calf season provides opportunities for hunters that don’t have a draw, and it allows the parties with the cow draw to harvest the calf as well.  Where there is a spike-fork bull season such as in the Omineca (7A) and Thompson Nicola (3) that has provided additional opportunity, without doing harm to the resource.  In fact, the evidence is that the resource may be improved by harvesting some of the single point and two point yearling bulls, while protecting the three and four point yearlings to improve the gene pool and produce the largest and most productive breeding bulls.

The result of harvesting cows is that the bull to cow ratio goes up significantly.  We are told that moose are the most monogamous of the ungulates, a bull usually remains with one cow until she goes out of estrus before going to another one, whereas Caribou, Elk and Mule Deer will have harems that they actively breed from the beginning of the rut.  By having a high bull to cow ratio, most of the cow moose will be bred early in the fall, which means that the calves will be born earlier in the spring and over a much shorter time period.  This gives the predators a very short window of opportunity to prey on calves up to 3 days old, when they are most vulnerable (especially to bears).  It also means that the calves will be bigger and stronger going into their first winter and the survival rate will be much higher.  Since some of these calves are surplus to what the herd needs to sustain itself, some that would otherwise be subject to winter wolf predation, can be harvested in the fall.  When cows are not harvested, many of them don’t get bred until late October or early November.  This means that the calving season is spread out over a month and a half and allows predators to do major damage to the calf crop, picking them off like popcorn as they are born so that up to 70% of calves do not survive their first year.   This problem occurs when there are too many cows or not enough bulls.  It appears that Region 7A & Region 3 approach it by keeping the cow population under control while Region 5 seems to want to increase the bull population by further curtailing the harvest of bulls.  This so-called solution (which borders on preservation) in Region 5 affects resident hunters much more adversely than any other group, which contradicts your policy of resident priority.  This is our understanding of why the Omineca (7A) moose management strategy has proven to be so successful.  We are told that the moose population has remained healthy, the annual harvest has been very satisfactory and rising, there has been very little stakeholder conflict and an increase in resident hunters since 1981.  In other words, it is an excellent model for other regions that have lost resident hunter interest.

There are Economic losses

The current management practices in the Cariboo (5) are not only depriving local residents of opportunity, they are wasting a renewable resource and leaving it vulnerable to a major winter die-off, as occurred in Region 7B (Peace) in 2007. Some biologists claim that up to 70% of the moose and mule deer died over a large area of the Peace Region.  Business and commerce in the Cariboo (5) is being deprived of much needed revenue due to the Region 5 policy of protectionism toward BC citizens from other Regions as well as from our own.  Using a conservative estimate of $1,000 in spending per moose hunter, the loss of 70% of our hunters represents seven million dollars per year to our local economy which is already suffering from a depressed lumber market.

This business of not welcoming other British Columbians to visit the Cariboo (5) during hunting season is just one excuse we have heard from your Ministry in the past few years.  Let me list a few more for you to-day.   “We don’t have enough staff or enough money to do the required work”.  Well, money and staff are short in most other Regions too.  “We have more Natives than other Regions”.  Not true.  Region 7A and Region 3 both have the same number, or more First Nations than Region 5.  “We don’t have accurate moose inventories”.  Neither do the other Regions. “The guide-outfitters don’t want it”.  Of course not, they are opposed to anything that allows residents into the bush.  “There are too many clear cuts and too many roads”.  There is an abundance of old blocks that are regenerated to provide excellent cover and feed in which it is difficult to see wildlife or to push them out into the open.  In any case our harvest is controlled by allocation, not the degree of difficulty it is to achieve.  “If we lengthen the existing 2 week LEH hunts to include some of the rut, the total number of available draws would need to be greatly reduced”.  Look at the Regions all around us.  They have at least a month to harvest a bull.  “Our Natives rely on moose more than Natives in other Regions who have access to other fish and wildlife resources”.  Region 5 has a wide variety of fish and wildlife too.  “Moose harvest rates, estimated at 9%, are now comparable to other regions in the province”.  That is incorrect as it is only 5.8% unless the First Nation harvest estimate is included to bring it up to the 9% level.  The Region 7A harvest is 9.1% before any First Nation harvest estimate is added in. The difference is due to the selective harvest strategy in Region 7A that synchronizes the rut and the calf drop resulting in a much higher % of calves surviving the first year of life and being recruited into the population.   Not only do our moose hunting opportunities not compare with those of our neighbouring Regions, but neither does our LEH system which makes it more difficult to harvest our allocation.

There has been a significant effect on the attitudes of resident hunters.

In our travels and discussions with fellow hunters in the Cariboo (5) these past few months, we have noticed a disturbing attitude of cynicism, anger and despair.  Many are unsure why they are being marginalized by your staff and blame it on the government’s preference for guide-outfitters, non-residents and Natives, while excluding the grass roots hunters.  This is not a good development.

Mr. Minister, I don’t know why this government does not seem to understand the people in the Interior.  The voters and tax-payers are the largest group of stake-holders and yet we are ignored and stone-walled and taken for granted by some of your public servants, even though the moose we harvest bring in more money for the economy than non-residents generate, not to mention the taxes we pay and our valuable support for your government and many of its policies.  There is enough game for everyone and there could be more.

We have been told by Region 5 staff that they have a special obligation to protect aboriginal rights (even where not yet proven) and that this obligation over-rides all other legislation, policy and procedure.  Also the Region has prophesized that other Regions will eventually need to follow their lead in this regard.  Our understanding is that we must consult with the Natives and that they do not have veto powers.  If they are consulted, and if they don’t agree with something, and if the Ministry implements it regardless of their concerns, and if they put up a blockade, and if the government backs down (as they did here in 2004), then the Natives do have veto power.  The more they are rewarded for using blockades the more blockades we will have, the prophecies of Region 5 will be self-fulfilling and this will lead to a serious relationship deterioration between Natives and other B.C. residents.  To make “a concession a day to keep reality away” is not a good long term policy.

There is no future for any of us if we let hard feelings and animosity prevail.  Some of us are prepared to consult with our local First Nations when they are willing to both listen and to talk. This relatively small group of resident hunters, which is roughly the same size as the Native population have so much in common with the Natives that we should be able to agree to support a better plan.

Recently the Natives in the north of Region 6 (Skeena) have expressed concerns about what they consider to be too many hunters from the south competing for the wildlife harvest on the few roads that exist there.  If the moose regulations in the southern regions of B.C. were liberalized and standardized, more of us would stay home to hunt and there would be fewer out of Region hunters using the very limited number of access roads to harvest the abundant wildlife in the northern portion of Region 6 (Skeena).

In summary we are asking for an independent review of moose hunting policies in the Cariboo (Region 5) which we hope will result in a better regulatory environment there, several thousand happier resident hunters, and a system that will produce more moose for non-residents, Natives and residents alike.  It will also be good for the moose resource itself as has already been proven in the parts of the country previously mentioned.   The moose habitat in the Cariboo Chilcotin (Region 5) is very good and there is no reason why the Region 7A (Omineca) moose management strategy will not work just as well here.   The acrimony between stakeholders and towards your Ministry has gone on long enough.  There is enough game in this wildlife paradise called British Columbia for everyone, including the wildlife viewing public. We need to emphasize this point to all involved and have your management policy of encouraging hunting by residents enforced by making adjustments in Region 5, the Cariboo-Chilcotin commencing with an independent review of the current policies by competent authorities.

Thank you.

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