Quebec should restrict forestry operations and sports hunting by non-natives to reverse a dramatic fall in moose numbers in the Cree Territory, says the Chief of the Waswanipi First Nation.
“It’s almost a crisis,” said Chief John Kitchen. “Something has to be done now.”
The moose population in the southern part of the James Bay Territory has fallen by half in just five years. If current levels of sports hunting and forestry continue, a Cree Regional Authority biologist has predicted there will be no more moose left in the region by 1998.
“If they want to save the moose, they have to tell the sports hunters to stop hunting,” said Kitchen, who is Chief of the Cree community most affected by forestry operations. Half of the Waswanipi First Nation’s territory has already been clearcut.
Chief Kitchen said Crees might agree to help by cutting back their annual kill to one moose per trapline. But he said that won’t help if forestry companies continue destroying the moose habitat and building logging roads that give non-native sports hunters greater access to the region. The clearcutting is also hurting other wildlife like fish and bears, said the chief.
The Quebec government has hinted that it would restrict sports hunting, but it wants to apply the same restrictions across the board, to Crees as well as non-natives. Chief Kitchen criticized this approach. “Non-natives should be the first ones restricted.”
Paul Dixon, the Cree Trappers Association officer in Waswanipi, agrees with the Chief. He points to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement which grants Crees a guaranteed minimum yearly moose harvest. The Agreement says that if this minimum isn’t attained, Quebec must restrict hunting by non-natives, something Quebec has refused to do despite years of poor Cree moose harvests.
Dixon said forestry operations and sports hunting are having devastating effects on many forms of wildlife in the region including the moose. This, in turn, has had a profound impact on Cree society and the hunting way of life, said Dixon. He said many moose have actually stopped mating be-ca use of the dramatic changes to their environment. This spring, he said, many female moose didn’t get pregnant, something which will further deplete moose numbers.
Cree trappers from all the southern communities hope to meet with Quebec conservation and forestry officials to discuss the problem in Ouje-Bougoumou July 16. Dixon wants the forestry department at the table because he said restrictions are needed on tree-cutting. But forestry officials have been reluctant to meet with Crees or ask forestry companies to slow down their work. Dixon said if the forestry department isn’t present, the meeting will be called off.
The CTA is currently preparing a resolution calling for government action on the moose problem, which will likely include a call for a ban on sports hunting and clearcutting. Chief Kitchen said that whatever the CTA comes out with, the trappers will have the full backing of the Waswanipi Band Council.
Provincial conservation officials could not be reached for comment by The Nation.