Missing moose

🕔Sep 27, 2010

The Tahltan Central Council (TCC) says shortening the hunting season in its traditional territory is a start, but the nation hopes to continue working proactively with provincial decision-makers on hunting regulations to further increase wildlife sustainability for the area.

Last fall, the TCC supported local residents who blockaded the Telegraph Creek Highway at the Tatcho River, eight miles west of Dease Lake, and the Klappan River Road turnoff 10 minutes south of Iskut on Highway 37. The Tahltan Nation was opposed to what protesters described as over-hunting on its traditional territories.

“We are really small and isolated communities in the North, but our area is open to hunters from all over BC,” said Dease Lake resident Lillian Campbell, describing vehicles leaving the area piled high with local wildlife. “This isn’t just about moose—it’s about bears, it’s about wolves, it’s about salmon, it’s about our culture.”

Unlike past disputes that saw the Tahltan Nation divided, the blockades had the support of the TCC and local band councils, according to TCC chair Annita McPhee. She adds that recent government negotiations had further united the nation in managing its wildlife resources with the creation of the Tahltan Wildlife Committee, which gives the nation a platform for dealing with government on wildlife issues.

“I think it’s a positive step toward caring about our wildlife. It’s not all the changes we want, but it’s the beginning of a relationship with the government where we can have shared decision-making,” McPhee says about the new regulations. “As long as we continue to move in that direction I think things will be positive for us and the moose in our territory.”

However, continues McPhee, “We’d like to see more changes.”
Until this fall, management units in the northern half of Skeena Region 6—in the province’s northwestern quadrant—carried the longest open seasons for moose in BC, from mid-August until mid-November. As a result, hunters from across the province, particularly those turned down for limited-entry licences elsewhere, converged on the area during the moose rut.

Major regulation changes for the 2010 season include a shortened moose season in the Klappan, which now runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and a reduced season for all other management units in Skeena Region 6’s northern half, from Aug. 20 to Oct. 31.

Also new for 2010, hunters will be subject to compulsory inspection in an effort to improve the accuracy of moose harvest data.

Increased access
Road upgrades along Highway 37 have been partially blamed for increased hunting in the area in recent years. As well, Royal Dutch Shell spent $8 million upgrading the Klappan River Road—originally constructed as a rail grade back in the 1970s—to uphold its tenure in the area, facilitating access for hunters into the Klappan.
Iskut residents occupied a blockade at the Klappan turnoff last fall at the same place where, four years earlier, the Klabona Keepers Elders Society fought to keep Shell from exploring for coalbed methane in the area known as the Sacred Headwaters.

Despite posts on American on-line hunting chat rooms decrying the Tahltan’s actions, most hunters in the area appeared understanding of the move, agreeing with the Tahltan’s assertion that more scientifically-based wildlife population studies are needed for northwestern BC.

The Ministry of Environment said last fall that, within the five management units encompassed by the Tahltan territory, 166 moose were harvested in 2007, or a “small fraction” of what is taken throughout Skeena Region 6 annually. Also in 2007, 527 hunters, representing 4,249 hunting days, visited the Tahltan territory, compared with 4,200 hunters spending 29,500 days in Region 6’s total 29 management units.

Despite Tahltan claims that the last population study for moose in the area was in 1982, the Ministry of Environment insists that data from about seven inventories completed in the Dease Lake area since 1978, including one in the Klappan in 2001 and in Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park in 1990, show a healthy moose population.

According to Ministry of Environment spokesperson Suntanu Dalal, a strip transect moose inventory survey was undertaken by helicopter in March by the ministry and the Tahltan Nation in the Klappan, Morchua Lake and Tuya/Level Mountain areas.
Dalal said the hunting regulation changes were not a direct result of last fall’s roadblocks, but that an agreement between the ministry and the Tahltan to work more collaboratively on wildlife management issues was.

MOE will be working with the Tahltan Nation through the Wildlife Working Group to discuss and resolve the concerns raised by them,” Dalal said. “No decisions have been made regarding any additional changes to the moose hunting regulations.”

The two blockade sites stand empty now and the Tahltan say they have no intentions to restrict hunting while negotiations with government are positive. However, it seems likely the nation would be willing to once again take to the roadside to protect its wildlife.

“I used to drive down this road, see lots of moose. Now I don’t see any. It’s the saddest thing,” said Fred Moyer, who manned the Dease Lake blockade every day from dawn until dusk last fall. “If we don’t do anything, they’ll be gone in five years, I think.”