A group calling itself the Anishnabe Moose Committee (AMC) has released a report raising “alarm” over the decline of moose populations in traditional Algonquin territory across Quebec and Ontario, calling for a moratorium on sport hunting and forestry to protect the large herbivores.
The 101-page report comes after the 2021 decision to impose a one-year moratorium on moose hunting in the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve as discussions restart over the future of the park and whether another moratorium will be imposed.
The moratorium was put in place following Algonquin protests and checkpoints interrupting hunting activities in the area. The Quebec government eventually agreed to impose the moratorium “to properly assess the state of the moose situation through studies carried out by mutual agreement,” Quebec Minister of Indigenous Affairs Ian Lafrenière said at the time.
The committee said that a 2019 aerial survey of La Vérendrye pointed to a 35% decline in the moose population since 2008. While the sport hunting moratorium remains in effect, the Quebec government said its current plans are to allow sport hunting to gradually return by 2023-2024.
In contrast, the AMC report says the moose are being over-hunted by sport hunters in La Vérendrye and in surrounding areas. They say there are too many hunters, that there is an improper balance of males, females and calves being harvested, that much of the moose often goes to waste, and that hunters have over-leveraged their technological advantages over moose.
The report also points to deforestation as a major threat to moose habitats, linking it to wider biodiversity losses. Climate change, heat accumulation, snowpack changes, and ticks are also seen as impacting the survival of moose over the winter and moose calves.
The report says that “all forestry operations must cease immediately, the moratorium on the sport hunting of moose must continue to be enforced and a comprehensive, multi-method study that is co-developed, co-implemented and informed by the knowledge of the Anishinabe people.”
The authors make a point that moose are threatened by the government’s interest in generating revenue at the expense of “holistic moose management.” They also say that provincial game wardens enforce existing rules in a discriminatory manner towards Indigenous people.
Shannon Chief, the coordinator of the group, said that after the moratorium was imposed, she didn’t see any studies forthcoming and began doing the research herself. She started by asking knowledge keepers and Elders who directed her to traditional people in each of the nine Algonquin communities around the park.
“We didn’t want this to be just… Park La Vérendrye. We wanted to include the other communities because they had similar struggles when it comes to moose and hunting,” she said. Because the groups weren’t officially sanctioned by chiefs and councils of all communities, however, Chief said that one hurdle is to get councils on board: “Our nation is very divided.”
She said that some chiefs and councils agree with Quebec, which wants to bring back hunting within the next few years. “This is what our Elders told us not to allow happen,” Chief added. The AMC sent the report to Quebec officials and to Algonquin leaders. “We went public as soon as we finished so the negotiation team are reading it,” she said.
Chief is hopeful that all parties will come to the table, including newly elected Quebec government representatives. She acknowledges that there will need to be a lot of communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous hunters going forward who are diametrically opposed to the idea of hunting moratoriums.
This would help deal with issues like waste. She has heard reports of moose found with arrows still in them, after hunters failed to track the moose, or moose carcasses left with just the heads removed, where Indigenous communities could harvest the rest of the animal.
Negotiations were originally to go forward in October but have now been pushed back to sometime between November or January.