No consultation with Cheslatta Carrier First Nation

Chief Leween has had concerns for years about the drop in the moose population

The provincial government’s biology scheme did not include was the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation, the presiding culture over much of the large tract of wilderness in question. (Wren Gilgan file photo/Lakes District News)

The provincial government’s biology scheme did not include was the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation, the presiding culture over much of the large tract of wilderness in question. (Wren Gilgan file photo/Lakes District News)

The provincial government has set up a domino effect of predators and prey, south of Ootsa Lake, that includes humans.

What their biology plan did not include was the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation.

Avid hunters may have noticed that much of the overall region’s moose hunting was concentrated into the area generally defined around the artificially flooded Ootsa Lake reservoir at the Nechako River headwaters, and into North Tweedsmuir Park – Cheslatta territory, generally speaking, neighbouring First Nations are also affected by this hunting plan.

The Cheslatta people certainly noticed. They have had concerns for years about the drop in the moose population, and overt alarm bells over the drop in caribou numbers. The caribou population, in old times, was the staple of the Cheslatta diet, according to elders.

“Last year, they counted 54, but there are more. But all the years I was growing up, there was no caribou, none at all. My grandpa used to say ‘when the caribou comes back, life is going to be better.’ Things will reset.”

Previously Chief Corrina Leween stated Cheslatta is totally in support of moose recovery until the populations come back and she stated there has been too much moose hunting and supports a moratorium until the moose population recovers. “I see result already in the steps we have taken, so generations to come will be able sustain their traditional food for themselves and families.”

The caribou populations in that watershed were drastically affected by the changes in landscape caused by the permanent flood made by the Kenney Dam. Moose became more abundant, caribou less abundant, for a time. In the past decade, however, both species have dwindled noticeably, the caribou especially so.

“What the caribou biologists have decided is, moose are a liability because moose provide food for wolves and other predators when the caribou aren’t available,” said Miles Fuller, a local trapper who has worked on that land intimately for decades. He does forestry work and operates a trap line in that area.

“They actually sustain the wolves, which makes moose a detriment to the caribou, because they keep the wolves involved in that area. So they decided that a) they would increase the number of limited entries for south of Ootsa Lake and b) they cancelled the general moose season everywhere in the area around here except for south of Ootsa Lake. So they generally had a three-day open moose season in there, with no one hunting anywhere else.”

Fuller’s hunting and guiding contacts confirmed that hunters with moose permits were thicker in that area than ever before.

The provincial government confirmed they had carried out this plan.

“The predator density [in this case, wolves] rise and fall based on the amount of prey in the area, in this case moose. So by reducing the number of moose in a sustainable manner, we will also lower the number of predators in the area, to the caribou’s benefit,” said a provincial government statement to the Lakes District News.

So, the plan is to thin out the moose in order to redirect wolves that would kill moose and caribou.

There are several problems with that plan, according to Fuller.

Problem one is, those predators don’t figure out right away that there are fewer moose, so the same number of them hunt the area harder and will still eat the endangered ungulate animals. The government confirmed that there has been a measurable decline in moose since as far back as 1997. Now, humans have been added to their predator list in droves.

Problem two is, yes, wolves are indeed a predator of concern, but not the predator that’s doing the greatest damage. Fuller explained that massive wildfires as far back as 2013 have altered the ecosystems in Cheslatta territory drastically. He and others who work that land know exactly why the moose and caribou are dying like bugs on a windshield.

“What happened was, we were overrun by grizzly bears,” Fuller said. “I have never seen anything like it. We were seeing sometimes six or eight a day. They have scattered around. There’s really not much of anything over there, now, except grizzly bears. They eat everything. They love to eat black bears. They are the top of the food chain, in there. They have wiped the game out. We are at an apex predator population maximum.”

But it’s against the law to hunt grizzly bears, and as unpopular as hunting wolves for some influential lobby groups.

Northern B.C. backcountry expert Stan Walchuk has just released a novel entitled Horribilis. It’s an adventure tale centred on grizzly bears, but it was mined from his extensive nonfiction experience with them. His research for the book dovetails with Fuller’s assertions.

Walchuk cites a recent study by biologist Wade Nolan who strapped cameras to grizzly bears to see exactly what they ate.

“What they learned was remarkable,” Walchuk told the Lakes District News. “Video camera footage (on seven bears combined) showed they killed approximately 238 moose and caribou calves in 45 days.”

He added, “To expect moose, caribou, or elk populations to recover (by adjusting hunting practices on prey species) while increasing numbers of predators remain unchecked is like putting your finger over a pinhole leak in a bucket while water gushes out a fist-sized hole on the other side.”

Walchuk pointed out that the Tahltan First Nation in northern B.C. issued their own predator management policy in June due to the government’s ecosystem engineering attempts.

“The decision by the government to ban grizzly bear hunting throughout British Columbia was made without consultation with the Tahltan Nation and has left Tahltan governments, communities and people feeling very dumbfounded, disheartened, and disrespected,” said a statement issued in 2018 by the Indigenous nation. While the same document acknowledged that they were consulted on some hunting and environmental matters, not the grizzly bear decision.

“Tahltan knowledge and scientific knowledge on grizzlies we have reviewed all leads to the same conclusion – banning the grizzly bear hunt in Tahltan Territory will be completely counterproductive to increasing safety, ungulate populations, and economic prosperity. This was not a wildlife management decision founded in any kind of science; it was purely a political decision.”

The provincial government asserted to the Lakes District News that “Significant engagement with all First Nations in the Skeena Region occurred going into the current five-year allocation period (2022-2026). A key aspect of this engagement focused on moose needs for traditional purposes. The government also engaged on proposed regulation changes in the Skeena Region prior to the 2022-2024 hunting regulation cycle, and again has initiated engagement with all Skeena First Nations for the next two-year regulation cycle (2024-2026).”

As regards the moose-caribou-predator plan, Fuller countered with a simple: “The Ministry of Environment decided without consulting with the Cheslattas in any way.”

When Cheslatta realized there had been no consultation they stepped in to intervene. “We are working with the provincial government now and voicing our concerns of the Cheslatta territory in question,” said Chief Corrina Leween. “We are hoping for a positive result in the end.”

The province said there is an intention to do a survey of the moose population in Cheslatta territory [their term for that area is the Tweedsmuir-Entiako parcel of the Skeena hunting zone] next winter.

The government also insisted the local grizzly population was fragile.

“The Francois Grizzly Bear Population Management Unit (GBPU) is the most at-risk in the Skeena Region and has been closed to hunting since 2010 because of high human-caused mortalities,” said the B.C. government. “The population was recently estimated at 58 individuals. It is unlikely that changes in the recent grizzly bear hunting regulations have had a significant impact on the moose population given the consistent low grizzly bear densities in the GBPU.”

Walchuk and Fuller both scoffed at the assertion the government had any accurate idea what the grizzly population actually was.

If one animal’s life is equal to another and killing an amount of them is part of sustainability, they each said, why not kill the ones doing even more killing themselves? Otherwise, they could envision a situation where the caribou were extinct, the moose were endangered, and the predators turn their attention next to other meat sources – cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, humans – before dwindling out themselves. It would mean a spiral to the bottom for all that wildlife, instead of a steady climb back to healthy herds.

Leween said, “We are very interested and paying attention to what the ministry is doing with the predator verse the prey ratio.”