A top official in Quebec’s wildlife department says he shares the Crees’ concern about falling moose numbers in northern Quebec.

“I agree with the Crees on this topic,” said Denis Vandal, chief of the Nouveau-Quebec department in Quebec’s Ministry of Environment and Wildlife (which recently replaced the MLCP).

Vandal said forestry and overhunting are to blame for the falling moose numbers in the southern part of the James Bay Territory. “The forestry operations have to be changed. I’m ready to collaborate with them [Crees] in meetings with the Ministry of Forests.”

In just five years, the moose population has fallen by half in zone 17, the “buffer zone” area of the James Bay Territory south of Matagami and Waswanipi. A biologist at the Cree Regional Authority says that if current levels of clearcutting and sports hunting continue, there will be no more moose left in the region by 1998.

Vandal said the forestry is hurting the moose in two ways. He said tree-cutting destroys the moose’s habitat and forestry companies build logging roads into the region giving sports hunters greater access to the region. “When you open a territory and make it more accessible, you have a chance that exploitation will increase because you have more roads and you can see the moose more easily. Accessibility has an impact on exploitation, for sure.”

Vandal said the roads have improved access for not only sports hunters, but Cree hunters as well. He argued that both kinds of hunting need to be restricted if moose numbers are to recover. Vandal is presently in the middle of negotiations with the Crees over cutting back their harvest. He refused to comment on the talks, beyond saying: “The negotiations are not finished. It’s difficult to say what we will do.” Vandal said he would need to get authorization from the minister before commenting further. This authorization didn’t come before we went to print.

According to the CRA, Quebec is hinting that it wants to see a drastic reduction in the Cree moose harvest. This, despite the guarantee of a minimum yearly Cree moose harvest contained in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Asked whether Quebec is going back on its word in the James Bay Agreement, Vandal said: “It’s good to restrict sports hunting, but if the others continue to exploit and exploit, you have the same problem. I know it’s difficult to understand.”

The Nation could not reach officials of the Natural Resources Ministry (which has taken over the tasks of the Ministry of Forests) for comment.

In a related development, the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee established under the James Bay Agreement rejected a proposal in early July calling on Quebec to ban sports hunting in zone 17. The failed proposal, made by Cree representatives on the committee, described the moose situation as an “emergency,” and called for compensation to Cree hunters who’ve seen reduced moose harvests due to government inaction the problem. Crees are a minority on the committee.