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Proposed hunting ban at La Verendrye reserve highlights conservation effort

BY Patrick Quinn Apr 23, 2021

After raising concerns for decades about over-harvesting by sports hunters in La Verendrye wildlife reserve, Anishinabe chiefs reached an agreement-in-principle with the Quebec government April 2 that establishes a moratorium of at least one year on moose hunting.

“This process of negotiation is on the right track,” stated Algonquin Anishinabeg Grand Chief Verna Polson. “There are details that still need to be worked out and consultation with the members must take place before the interim measures and a final agreement are concluded.” 

Both sides of the negotiating table expressed a desire to prevent a repeat of recent hunting seasons, when checkpoints installed by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake caused tensions with sports hunters, sometimes resulting in intervention from provincial police. Located in the middle of the reserve, the community has been alarmed by the declining moose population for years.

“It’s part of our culture and spirituality,” said Anishinabe negotiator Lucien Wabanonik. “It’s our main food source for many of our communities who go to the land every time they can. Some of our people still stay on the land all year round – traditional diet is still very important in our nation.”

While the Barriere Lake community typically harvests 20 to 25 moose a year, sports hunters have reportedly been taking close to 100 in the annual four-week season. Although an aerial survey made last winter found about two moose per 10 square kilometres, compared to three in 2008, comprehensive data hasn’t been collected since 1994.

The moratorium would lead to more comprehensive moose population studies. It could also develop knowledge sharing and resource conservation awareness. Although Wabanonik told the Nation that early response to the proposed agreement is positive, new Barriere Lake Chief Tony Wawatie has concerns over whether sufficient protective measures are in place. 

Wabanonik says full community consultations are necessary before a final agreement is signed with the government. While Quebec stated in a press release that a return to current standards may happen by 2024, depending on study results, he is skeptical.

“I don’t think it will come back to the way it was,” Wabanonik said. “The hunters have been saying for many years that climate change is real. The ticks are also causing a lot of damage in the moose population, so those issues need to be monitored closely.”

Further north, the Cree also have significant concerns about Eeyou Istchee’s moose population. In collaboration with the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, the CNG conducted an aerial survey of southern regions in February, but results are not yet available. 

The Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) is working on a moose management plan that will seek to align traditional cultural values with a changing society and environment. Like many regions across Canada, uncontrolled over-harvesting with ever advancing vehicle and weapon technology is causing steep declines in this species.

“Obviously the modes of travel and methods of hunting have changed,” said newly elected CTA President Thomas Jolly. “I tell people who sometimes get moose excessively at our family trapline, I’m not proud of what you did. Anybody can chase down moose with a machine that goes over 100 miles an hour.”

Tallymen raised concerns in recent years about unauthorized hunting of vulnerable caribou and moose populations, not just from outsiders but among Crees themselves. While tallymen are traditionally be consulted by hunters as they’re responsible for all harvesting activities on their traplines, it’s becoming harder to control who is accessing the territory.

“The tallyman will more than welcome you to ensure your safety is taken care of,” Jolly told the Nation. “People can think of it a little differently – it’s not trying to sneak in and take out what you can. We all want to know who goes in the bush. In case anything happens, we’ll know they’re there.”

Jolly favours better education about proper hunting customs, saying he wants to review the programs offered in secondary schools and at Cégep de Saint-Felicien that teach bush survival skills and other fundamentals of the Cree traditional lifestyle. 

“People need to know the significance and the reason behind what we’re doing,” Jolly asserted. “With moose management, there are several documents produced by the CTA I plan to go back to. One of them is the traditional hunting law. It literally lays out the rules you should think about when you go out hunting.”

Respectful management of the land and its living resources is central to this approach, including proper disposal of unused meat and bones. However, moose numbers are also impacted by numerous environmental factors, including climate change and industrial development.

“We were discussing the effects of climate change at our board meeting,” said Jolly. “It causes a disturbance when any kind of industry goes up. When they do a mining study, they don’t do research outside of a radius of 10 km, but what if you dump stuff in the river that goes down to the bay?”

Since the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed in 1975, the northern limit of the moose range has gone from the Broadback and Eastmain watersheds to as far north as Whapmagoostui. That’s why Lucien Wabanonik says it’s necessary to work with other nations to advance Indigenous-led solutions. 

“Of course, we want to have better control of our land management and our resources, have a real say in the decision-making in those areas that touch our people,” Wabanonik said. “We need to move forward and have that protection for the habitat and all the natural resources. It’s all linked together – we can’t separate any one of those elements in nature.”

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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.