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Cree Nation responds to concerning moose survey results

BY Patrick Quinn Nov 10, 2021

Despite last winter’s aerial survey results showing a significant decline of the moose population in Zone 17 and the south part of Zone 22, the sports hunt continued as usual this season, which ran October 2-17.

The survey showed a 35% moose decline in Zone 17 compared to previous figures in 2009, as well as the lowest levels yet recorded for reproduction (30 calves/100 females) and the number of males (27 males/100 females).

Although the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) reportedly received this preliminary data in June, the Cree Nation didn’t receive results until September 9. Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty had called this delay unacceptable as it has hindered meaningful discussion on measures that could have relieved pressure on the population. 

Among the proposed measures currently under discussion are for the Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) and concerned tallymen to develop and adopt guidelines for ensuring sustainable Cree harvesting, including a reliable monitoring system. 

At its latest general assembly, the CTA had adopted a resolution recommending the closure of the sports hunt in Zone 17 and the establishment of an upper limit of kill by the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee (HFTCC), which consists of Cree, Inuit, Naskapi and federal and provincial government representatives and has binding authority regarding wildlife harvesting in accordance with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).

As a sustainable harvest level of 10% of the estimated population was recommended in Zone 17, representing 104 moose, and the JBNQA stipulates Crees have a Guaranteed Level of Harvest of 158 moose in this zone, Waswanipi Chief and Council formally requested that the HFTCC allocate Zone 17’s entire moose harvest to Crees until the population has recovered.

“The coordinating committee has discussed the matter and submitted its recommendation to the minister last week,” the HFTCC’s Miles Mark told the Nation. “The minister will make his public announcement any day now.”

While the MFWP intends to clarify its position following this announcement, it told the Nation that it had to meet “certain analysis and production deadlines” and meet with the HFTCC before disseminating survey results to the Crees. The regulatory modification process enables recommendations to be made for 2022 and subsequent hunting seasons – the full report is expected this winter.

“The Cree harvest remains unknown for Zone 17,” the MFWP stated in French. “The results of an aerial inventory can hardly be interpreted without quantifying the hunting mortality rate since the previous inventory. Restoring reliable monitoring of the Cree harvest is necessary to understand and predict the trend in moose numbers.”

Waswanipi land users have been alarmed about the moose decline in Zone 17 for decades and even requested that the HFTCC close the sports hunt back in 1994. Allan Saganash has witnessed this reduction since he began hunting in 1966, when the territory was relatively untouched and moose were abundant. 

“Forestry is responsible for the destruction of important wildlife habitats, especially moose,” asserted Saganash, Waswanipi’s former forest administrator. “Forestry development caused a chain reaction – landscape changes, wildlife behaviour, decline of wildlife populations. Forestry roads is an issue in itself, promoting access in the Cree territory and other development projects.”

Deforestation has impacted Zone 17 perhaps more than any other part of Eeyou Istchee. Moose feeding in open areas can be hunted at great distances from the 37,000 kilometres of roads in Waswanipi, which mostly serve the forestry industry, and are vulnerable to predation from wolves and bears, who primarily target newborn calves. 

Saganash believes this development has transformed the Cree way of life, quadrupling the number of Cree hunters in the area and significantly changing travel modes, hunting locations and equipment. While moose are clearly threatened by the over 800 non-Native hunting camps in Waswanipi, compared to about 350 Cree camps, Saganash sympathizes with both sides and suggested that forestry corporations are the bigger concern. 

“It’s easier to deal with (hunting) groups instead of concentrating on the real problem,” Saganash said. “In my experience, 80% of moose are killed in open areas. If there were trees there, those moose would still be walking around today. They should create wildlife refuges on all traplines. Let’s look at smaller harvested areas, interconnected residual forest, expanding the corridor of trees along water shores and forestry roads.” 

Although 2002’s Paix des Braves agreement included an adapted forestry regime to guide more sustainable development, Saganash argued that measures to protect wildlife are not being implemented. Tallyman Paul Dixon, half of whose large trapline is in Zone 17 and reportedly 90% logged, believes that one trapline can be legally leveraged if that agreement or the JBNQA is breached and he’s encouraging the Cree Nation to do so.

“Hunters and tallymen were never in the same room when they made the Peace of the Braves and all these other deals,” Dixon told the Nation. “I requested a moratorium on forestry and to immediately ban sports hunting of moose and caribou. Also, to put on hold exploration and mining projects until after careful review. There is no priority of Native harvesting if there is no moose.”

Dixon has long vocally opposed the “careless and unchecked development” that has ravaged his region and declared that Cree traditional hunters are facing an epic battle for survival. With moose cornered in small pockets of forest or helpless as cows in a clearing, he thinks guidelines are futile if forestry isn’t checked first.

“I predicted some years ago that CNG, CTA and Quebec officials would come to Waswanipi and ask us to stop killing moose or caribou,” said Dixon. “Quota-kill resolutions are the same as asking a farmer to stop eating eggs when a fox is stealing from the hen house. When we’re only reacting to development, we end up losing not only the land but a way of life.”

Dixon’s family have chosen not to go moose hunting this season and he said they’re suffering for it. While governments grapple with these latest survey results, moose experts like Dixon and Saganash lament that this wildlife decline was all too predictable. 

“Traditional knowledge is very important to stabilize the moose population,” said Saganash. “They need a better method of calculating disturbances of wildlife. The biggest problem is developers base decisions on what’s important to them. You’ve got to listen to the voices of the land.”

by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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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.