By Lloyd Dolha
The Tahltan Nation of northeastern British Columbia has responded positively to a request form Environment Minister Barry Penner who will send his Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) to the Tahltan territory to discuss wildlife management issues in their traditional lands. The Tahltan Council wants to stop what they call “open season” on moose in a popular hunting area south of Dease Lake in the northern reaches of the Skeena hunting area known as Region Six. “We hope the meeting with the ADM will lead to concrete and tangible outcomes,” said Anita McPhee, chairperson of the Tahltan Central Council. “We are expecting the ADM to have a full mandate to commit to real resolutions in the short and long term.”
Tahltan protesters set up blockades on September 24 along the Klappan Road off Highway 37 and the Telegraph Creek Highway. They warned hunters to expect more blockades until concerns over extensive moose hunting in the area are addressed. “We call them Wildlife Management gates. We’re just asking hunters to leave,” said McPhee. She said the area currently has the longest open season on moose hunting in the province, running from August 1st to November 15th. “We have hunters coming up from the (United) states and Vancouver Island because of the hunting restrictions [in those areas],” said McPhee.
The Tahltan are concerned that the moose population that they depend upon in the region is at risk. In other parts of the province, hunters have to enter into a lottery to win a ticket that allows them to hunt moose. “Moose are our most important food source,” said Chief Rick McLean of the Tahltan First Nation. “We have a sacred trust to protect the moose population for our future generations. We can’t just sit by and watch the moose in our area get pushed to the brink of extinction due to the mismanagement of the province.”
The Tahltan want limitations on the length of the season and the number of moose taken, as well as more reliable data on the exiting moose population. Provincial biologists say the moose population in the area is healthy. “We’re not wanting to take away people’s right to hunt,” said McPhee. “We’re just trying to have limited hunting regulations implemented and the length of the season shortened, and this hasn’t happened,” said McPhee in a CBC interview.
The Tahltan have been pressuring the ministry for years to address wildlife management issues in their territory to no avail. Over the last several weeks, members of the Tahltan set up wildlife management gates at a number of different places in their territory to discourage hunters. The minister had requested the gates be taken down prior to meeting with the Tahltan as an expression of good faith and refused to meet with the Tahltan until the blockades come down.
Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson took the Environment Minister Penner to task in an address in the legislature over the conflict in the area. Donaldson said poor moose population statistics and diminished funding for the Environment Ministry was a big part of the problem. He blamed the B.C. Liberals for cutting the Environment Ministry’s budget by 30% last year. “As we speak, members of the Tahltan Nation in northwest B.C. are restricting road access on their traditional territories to moose hunters from all parts of the province,” said Donaldson in the legislature. “This is an area of high unemployment. Many Tahltan depend on moose meat for food. If it wasn’t for the moose meat in the freezer, people would go hungry.”
McPhee said that no comprehensive studies have been done on moose populations since the 1980’s. The Ministry of the Environment said it has conducted random block studies of moose for the Klappan Valley in 2001 and the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park in 1990. The Tahltan now await confirmation of a date to meet with the ADM. “The ball is in now in the province’s court,” said McPhee. “After many years of inaction, it is time for the province to take our concerns seriously and collaborate with us on real change.” She added, “Our elders have led the way on every step of this matter and our people will be watching very closely.”