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Barriere Lake takes action against overhunting in wildlife reserve

BY Patrick Quinn Sep 27, 2019

While another fall moose hunt is in full swing at La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, this year’s visitors will notice an increased presence of the park’s other inhabitants – the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. The Algonquin-Anishinabe Nation is demanding the Quebec government enforce an immediate moratorium on sport hunting of moose pending further study.

As the Barriere Lake community is located right in the middle of the reserve of 12,589 square kilometres, members have been alarmed by the declining moose population for years. They feel a moratorium is necessary to ensure the future sustainability of an animal they have relied on for sustenance over many generations.

“There are barely any moose in the park,” Chief Casey Ratt told the Nation. “As First Nations, we depend on the moose. On a yearly basis, our community harvests 20-25. Meanwhile, SEPAQ hunters in our area will harvest 80-90 in a span of four weeks. Those figures are just staggering.”

The government agency that manages the park, the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SEPAQ), provided 250 group permits by random draw for the annual hunting season, which this year runs from September 9 to October 9. While the Algonquins take just enough to feed their community of 400, Ratt is concerned about SEPAQ’s management strategy, which allows hunters to kill bulls, cows and calves.

“We as First Nations have our own values in terms of what not to shoot,” said Ratt. “We don’t shoot females in the spring; we don’t shoot calves at a young age. [SEPAQ] will open it up to three again, just to get the high percentage rate of kills. To us, that’s just wrong.”

While Ontario is changing hunting rules to protect calves, most of Quebec’s hunting zones have no such restrictions. Ratt added that SEPAQ’s population analysis is limited to asking hunters if they have seen a moose in the area, with no comprehensive data collected since 1994. 

“The hunter could see the same moose over three days – you’re counting the same moose!” Ratt exclaimed. “We’ve been saying we want an aerial survey or census to really know the numbers of the moose population, to come up with a management plan that SEPAQ clients can follow.”

In requesting a hunting moratorium, the Barriere Lake council is taking direction from community Elders, some of whom remember a time when moose were abundant in the area. Last year, the Algonquin Nation first brought this appeal to Pierre Dufour, Quebec’s Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks.

Ratt said they have already met with Dufour several times this year. During their last meeting in August he reportedly admitted that SEPAQ has no strategy for maintaining a healthy moose population in the park. Although Dufour is now publicly inviting the Algonquins to collaborate on an action plan that would include an inventory in 2020, for the community that’s too little, too late.

“We’re not going to meet with the officials,” asserted Ratt. “We said we’ve been doing this over a year and made our intentions known to them. This is why we’re on the land right now – we live here so it’s no problem for us. We will make our presence known.”

A group of Algonquin-Anishinabe built camps on both sides of Highway 117 within the reserve, slowing traffic to pass out bilingual leaflets explaining why a moratorium is necessary. From the first registration day, activists informed hunting camps that SEPAQ should reimburse their costs because it would be virtually impossible for them to kill any moose.

“We’ll visit them at their campsites,” explained Ratt. “It’s up to you if you want to leave and ask SEPAQ for your money back or we’ll practice our right to hunt alongside you. This is all Algonquin territory.”

Dufour said that a police presence was required to register the first hunters because some felt intimidated by the protesters. The minister said several attempts have been made to arrange a meeting with the Algonquins that achieves a joint agreement for conservation.

“This working meeting will help define the foundations for a harmonious coexistence in the territory, particularly in the context of moose sport hunting,” stated Dufour. “I ask again for the cooperation of all and I appeal to caution so that the hunting season begins in a safe manner, in order to maintain a climate conducive to a mutually satisfactory solution for future hunting seasons.”

At this time of the year, members of the Barriere Lake community usually try to avoid encounters with hunters. However, there have been numerous reports of police harassment this year. In one alleged incident, an SQ vehicle nearly ran a school bus off the road.

“Yes, there’s going to be some tensions from the moose hunters,” said Ratt. “That’s the minister’s fault. He should have listened to us a year ago. We will be heard, we will be felt. We’ve made that promise to the hunters and that’s what we’re doing.”

The community has established three camps where community volunteers are offering traditional meals and warm drinks to supportive visitors, such as from Timiskaming First Nation.

While he doesn’t rule out climate change or disease as contributing factors in the population decline, Ratt has good reason to blame over-hunting and doesn’t want to wait until the moose are wiped out before a survey provides a clear picture of the situation.

“There’s a park called Papineau-Labelle about an hour or two south and its teeming with moose,” noted Ratt. “In that park they closed off moose hunting for a number of years. Now they have a lot of moose there – why can’t they do the same thing here?”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.