Every two years the province reviews and updates hunting regulations based on information on wildlife populations as well as recommendations from scientists and stakeholders.

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Actions taken by the provincial government meant to manage hunting and preserve wildlife in northern B.C. are being described by critics as “bargaining away public access to the backcountry.”

While the Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship said new sweeping changes to how caribou, bull, and antler-restricted moose are hunted are meant “to support reconciliation and improve wildlife stewardship and habitat conservation” in the Skeena and Omineca-Peace regions, they will also limit the public’s access to the backcountry, claims Jesse Zeman.

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“We think B.C. should also support people who want to engage in recreation like hunting in nature because it offers a host of health benefits,” said Zeman, executive-director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

Previously, any licensed hunter could go to the area and hunt bull caribou between Aug. 15 and Oct. 25 without having to enter a lottery. Now, however, hunting caribou is limited entry. In north Skeena, hunting bull moose and antler-restricted moose have also been converted from open season in many areas.

Zeman is worried that the province’s latest hunting restrictions are disproportionate to the sustainability of the species and have been done without widespread approval. “We don’t support additional restrictions when they are not proven to be supported by science,” he told Postmedia on Thursday.

“There’s a whole bunch of bad things that can come when we see non-science-based decisions around conservation. For example, imagine public officials deciding to go against what scientists say will help the province’s endangered steelhead salmon — it would be devastating.”

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In an email to Postmedia, the province said the decisions “are based on science, data, and engagement” with First Nations, the public, B.C. Trappers Association, Guide Outfitters, and the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

“We have consulted with our caribou and moose experts to finalize the regulation changes. … While there were shifts in specific regions, there remain open-season hunts for sheep and moose in the province. When we can, we open new sustainable hunting opportunities.” For hunters in the Cariboo region, antler-less white-tailed deer are becoming open-season for hunters.

Every two years, the province reviews and updates hunting regulations based on information on wildlife populations as well as recommendations from scientists and stakeholders.

Following its last review, in 2022, the province converted moose and caribou hunts in the Peace region to limited entry from a general open season.

Internal government emails and documents obtained by the B.C. Wildlife Federation through a freedom-of-information request showed the changes came in opposition to many biologists who worked at the ministry — and were “unlikely” to aid the declining moose population in the north.

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“It is not only controversial with stakeholders, but also very much not supported by the bio(logists) internally,” reads a June 1, 2021, email from B.C.’s ungulate specialist to a provincial associate director of wildlife.

At the time, B.C.’s application to amend its hunting regulations indicated the changes were “unlikely to stabilize or increase moose populations without addressing habitat and predation” and that “if the government does not listen to the traditional knowledge of the local First Nations, there may be a potential violation of Treaty 8 rights, as the population of moose continues to decrease, and sustenance harvest is difficult, a lawsuit may be initiated.”

The 2022 hunting restrictions followed a landmark court decision that found that the province violated the treaty rights of Blueberry River First Nations to hunt, fish and trap without interference during industrial development.

While local First Nations were in support of the changes, many hunting groups were not.

In May, a group of several outfitters and guides lodged a lawsuit with the province for restricting the hunting of caribou and moose in the Peace region, saying they lost business as a result.

The number of moose harvested by resident hunters in B.C. has significantly declined in the past decades, from 13,045 in 1979 to 4,017 in 2018, government data indicates.

General open season for hunting moose in the Skeena and Omineca-Peace regions and those without motorized access continues.


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