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Moose population declines in areas surrounding Eeyou Istchee

BY Dan Isaac Sep 13, 2019

“Paradoxically much more attention has been paid in the Cree world to woodland caribou in recent years than to moose.”

Alan Penn

With the fall moose hunt on the horizon, some alarming news is coming from the south and west of Eeyou Istchee.

In August, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake declared a state of emergency over the dwindling moose herd located in the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve – an area the First Nation had relied on for food security for generations.

According to statements made by Barriere Lake Chief Casey Ratt, a moratorium is needed to address over-harvesting by sports hunters.

While his community typically harvest about 20 to 25 moose a year, Ratt believes sports hunters have been taking 100 or more moose during the four-week season over the past two years.  

Ratt also told APTN that appropriate data regarding the herd his community relies on hasn’t been taken since 1994.

In response to the call, Quebec Minister of Forests and Wildlife Pierre Dufour met with representatives of the First Nation on August 16 and 21, and agreed to collaborate with the Algonquins on a comprehensive survey of the moose in the wildlife reserve.

In Ontario, public consultations are currently taking place until September 26 to address proposed changes “to improve how moose are managed, how moose tag quotas are developed, and how tags are distributed to provincially licensed moose hunters.”

Part of the province’s proposed changes will address how moose calves are harvested. In the past, every licensed hunter in Ontario could also harvest calves. The changes will aim to protect calves through tag quotas similar to those in place in the province for bulls and cows.

In Eeyou Istchee, however, conversations around moose populations and conservation have gone, for the most part, silent.

Paul Dixon, a trapper who is the coordinator of the CTA’s fur office in Waswanipi, remembers a time when moose in Eeyou Istchee outnumbered the Cree 10-to-1. Now he estimates it’s closer to 15 Cree for every moose.

“Paradoxically – much more attention has been paid in the Cree world to woodland caribou in recent years than to moose,” wrote Alan Penn, Science Advisor for the Cree Nation Government, in an email response to the Nation.

“I say ‘paradoxically’ because I suspect (that is my non-Cree perspective, anyway) that moose have acquired a major and probably dominant role in the bush meat economy in Cree society.”

Since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, there have been some notable changes in moose migration. “At the time of the JBNQA, the northern limit of the range was closer to the Broadback and Eastmain watersheds,” wrote Penn. Today, however, moose can be found as far north as Whapmagoostui.

Dixon joked that this migration is happening because the moose in Whapmagoostui have simply gotten lost. More seriously, he said development and habitat loss are likely responsible for the territorial changes.

Penn went on to suggest that, while there are likely a number of reasons for the decline of moose in the neighbouring regions, it may also be time to start gathering hunter-based data and having conversations about the possibility of regulatory practices and policies in Cree territory.

Dixon was quick to nix the latter suggestion. For him there’s a hierarchy to how the process of regulations should go.

“The first thing we have to deal with are the sports hunters. Then we need to talk about how resource development is affecting the moose. After that, maybe, comes the Cree hunter,” Dixon concluded.

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Dan Isaac is a Mi'kmaq and Mohawk journalist with a BA in Creative writing from Concordia University. He’s been writing for the Nation since 2016.