A young bull moose emerges from the trees near Barkerville on July 1. Moose populations across the Cariboo are believed to be under threat after the 2017 wildfires. Karen Powell photo

Moose harvest reduced for Cariboo’s fall hunt

Hunting guide-outfitters and First Nations say reductions are not enough

Moose hunters across the Cariboo will by vying for fewer tags this season, as the director for the Wildlife and Habitat branch recently reduced the moose hunting quotas and Limited Entry Hunt (LEH) licences in a number of wildlife management units.

This reduction is in addition to past harvest reductions and the Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) says it will help to address the bull-to-cow ratio concerns in these areas, to help increase moose populations.

The government had held off announcing numbers for LEHs in many Interior regions. When the B.C. Limited Entry Hunting Regulations Synopsis 2018-2019 was published in April, bull moose hunts in management unit 5-01 (Canim Lake/100 Mile House area), MU 5-02 B and C (150 Mile House to Horsefly, Moffat Lake and Quesnel Lake areas east of Williams Lake) as well as MU 5-13 A, B, C and 5-14 (west and north of the Fraser River between Williams Lake and Quesnel) were all listed as TBD, or to be determined.

Last year, the fall moose hunt was cancelled in Cariboo wildfire zones west of Quesnel and Williams Lake. The closures affected an area north of Highway 20 and west of Williams Lake and Quesnel, after the Chilcotin Plateau Fire ravaged the area in summer 2017.

Rationale

The recently released LEH numbers for these regions show reduced allocations to bull moose hunts in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

The new 2018-19 licensed harvest for residents is 246 moose, down from 325 moose in 2017. Guide quota has been reduced from 145 in 2017 to 128 in 2018.

The Wildlife and Habitat Branch explains there were three types of reductions applied, two to “absolute harvest,” the number of moose identified as available for harvest; and one related to the potential increased vulnerability to moose due to hunters being more successful – due to lack of forest cover, and longer sightlines, for example.

A 50 per cent reduction to the absolute harvest was applied to areas where there are low bull-to-cow ratios.

“This reduction was not based on fire, but in order to allow for recovery of healthy bull-to-cow ratios and follows a similar approach employed successfully in 1995 and 1996. It is aligned with guidance in the Provincial Framework for Moose Management,” said Wildlife Branch staff via email.

A 10 per cent reduction was made to absolute harvest in some areas, in expectation of additional pressure on bull harvest from First Nations’ harvesters in those zones. This reduction was also not based on wildfire.

Finally, a five to 20 per cent additional reduction was applied for the number of LEH authorizations. This reduction was based on the total amount of moose habitat within the 2017 fire perimeter, to account for hunters being more successful. These LEH reductions were based on wildfire impacts.

And according to the Wildlife and Habitat Branch, moose populations were relatively unchanged in the Cariboo, based on population surveys undertaken early in 2018.

“[For example, we] sighted slightly more moose in LEH zone 5-13A, the zone with the most extensive burn area, than from previous surveys,” a spokesperson said via email.

The new numbers were decided upon after months of consultation with local First Nations and other stakeholders, said the branch.

“While consensus was not achieved, First Nations’ perspectives were a significant part of the process,” a spokesperson commented.

Not enough, says guide-outfitter

Some local First Nations groups and hunters believe the numbers do not go far enough to protect the moose population.

One Cariboo guide-outfitter, Stewart Fraser, says he is “livid” that there have been fewer reductions in LEH allocations in management unit 5-13C, which constitutes 50 per cent of his guide area. Management unit 5-13 stretches west from Quesnel, encompassing Nazko, with its southern boundary at Alexis Creek.

The absolute harvest in management unit 5-13A was reduced by 60 per cent, plus an additional 20 per cent reduction to LEH authorizations – LEH authorizations were reduced from 132 to 68.

In 5-13B, absolute harvest was reduced by 50 per cent. LEH authorizations went down from 132 to 68.

And in 5-13C, there was no reduction in absolute harvest, but LEH authorizations were reduced by 15 per cent, from 161 to 138.

5-14’s LEH authorizations were reduced by 10 per cent.

The Wildlife and Habitat Branch says the allocations and absolute harvest numbers will be reassessed after they receive additional 2018 data.

“They did a reduction in 5-13A, which is to the south of 5-13C, but that wasn’t hit as hard,” says Fraser, who believes the burn from Nazko to the Itcha Mountains to be the worst burned section of the region.

“They did a 50 per cent reduction of the bull harvest in 5-13B … but not in 5-13C. The bull moose there will get annihilated, and next year they will shut it down because there will be no moose left,” he says.

But the Wildlife Branch says 5-13C has bull-to-cow ratios within range (33 bulls to 100 cows), based on 2017 surveys.

“Wildfire can cause direct mortality. Conversely, the long-term impact of wildfires is typically positive due to resulting increases in forage. Recovery can be expected within a short timeframe, but can vary greatly depending on fire intensity,” the Wildfire Branch commented via email.

“Areas of high-quality moose habitat (wetlands, deciduous patches) were generally less severely burnt compared to areas of low-quality moose habitat.”

Fraser says local tree planters and morel mushroom pickers, who have been spending a lot of time in the burn areas this spring and summer, have told him there are dozens of burned moose carcasses across the region, indicating just how many moose were lost.

“Any green riparian area, that’s where a bull moose will be, because there’s nowhere else to be. They are isolated to these pockets. All you have to do as a hunter is go out to one of these areas, do a couple of cow calls, and that bull is going to walk out and you can shoot it, because he’s got nowhere else to go.”

Although Fraser has tags to take up to a dozen hunters into 5-13C this fall, he says he won’t do it.

“I can’t take a guy whose paid $8,000 to go on a moose hunt into a burn. It’s like walking into a desert. So all the moose I have to try to take are in areas where they’ve cut back and the moose numbers are bad already. The licences I have in 5-13C, I won’t be using. It’s unethical to go out there and hunt in that burn right now,” he asserts.

Fraser wants the Wildlife and Habitat Branch to shut down the moose hunt in 5-13C.

He believes the moose in the area need to be left along so they can breed and work towards a recovery of the overall population.

“[5-13C is] where I would primarily hunt, and I’m asking for a full closures. This affects me big time – if I ask for a closure, that means I can’t hunt either.”

Local First Nations perspective

Nazko First Nation Chief Stuart Alec is also concerned about the number of tags being issued. He says Nazko band members have been very conservative in the number of moose they have harvested, both last fall and this year so far.

“We are hunting, but not in the Plateau Fire region. We haven’t been harvesting as many as we typically would. Minimal moose have been taken, just a few that are shared throughout the community,” he says.

Alec says he had hoped to see no tags issued until further assessments had been completed.

“We have a lot of concerns. And concerns have been raised in the past, and they haven’t been answered today. The B.C. government seems to think there’s X amount of moose in our territory, but their numbers don’t agree with what we see.”

Alec says the moose they see in the Plateau Fire area “look beaten down.”

“We won’t hunt in there until we see they can fend for themselves and can move around.”

?Esdilagh First Nation (Alexandria), whose traditional territory stretches west and east of the Fraser River between Quesnel and Williams Lake, recently signed an agreement with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service so that band members must adhere to Wildlife Act restrictions on moose hunting. And they have issued a band-wide ban on moose hunting for their nation.

“The bull moose might still be open, but not to ?Esdilagh. ?Esdilagh members still feel strongly that there should be no moose harvest at all by anybody, whether First Nations or non-First Nations. There’s not enough moose left,” band manager Chad Stump told the Observer in June.

And Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) tribal chairman Chief Joe Alphonse recently called an emergency summit to respond to the provincial government’s moose harvest allocation in the region.

“We are making these sacrifices, yet we see all these LEH hunters coming into our territory,” said Alphonse.

The meeting between Tsilhqot’in chiefs and councillors will take place July 10.

Ongoing moose population management

The Ministry’s Wildlife and Habitat Branch says consultation with First Nations groups is ongoing with respect to moose management.

“In addition to the consultation leading up to the decision, after the decision was communicated, the director of Wildlife and Habitat has offered to go to the Cariboo and meet with the Tsilhqot’in National Government, as well as other First Nations and interested regional stakeholders. We are still waiting to hear if this offer is acceptable to organize a mutually agreeable time,” the Branch told the Observer via email.

The Branch also said the licensed harvest of moose is only a small component of its moose enhancement strategy.

“We will continue to work with local First Nations and stakeholders to address broader landscape and environmental conditions that impact moose population enhancement,” they said.

With files from Angie Mindus and Monica Lamb-Yorski.



editor@quesnelobserver.com

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