Bears and wolves to be hunted by Tahltan in B.C’s northwest

With a territory spanning nearly 11 per cent of northwest B.C. it might not come as a surprise predators outnumber humans. 

“There’s a lot of belief that dogs are going missing from wolves and bears, and there has been situations where wolves and bears have actually gone into the communities very close to children playing,” said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government (TCG). 

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As concerns of safety mount, Day said Tahltans and other locals have witnessed a steady decline in ungulates and a growing imbalance of wildlife populations. 

Just this year, he estimates there have been more than 20 problematic black bears and a handful of grizzly bears that had to be destroyed by community members. 

“We’ve been experiencing increasing dwindling of the ungulates —specifically moose and caribou—and having more and more conflicts with wolves and bears, so it’s getting scary.” 

On Tuesday, Sept. 15 TCG announced a Tahltan predator management policy which encourages members to exercise their constitutionally-protected Aboriginal hunting rights to harvest predatory species including black bears, grizzly bears and wolves. 

Day said attempts to work collaboratively with the B.C. government to establish a science-based and holistic co-management framework that respects the jurisdiction and knowledge of the Tahltan Nation have failed. 

“They’ve certainly made efforts to work more closely with us on wildlife initiatives but it doesn’t go nearly far enough in order to address wildlife in Tahltan Territory,” he said. 

In a written statement the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said wildlife populations naturally fluctuate and there are many factors that can affect distribution and abundance.

“Generally, wildlife populations in the Northwest are stable; however, there are areas where declines of some species are observed or documented,” said ministry spokesperson Tyler Hooper.

Hooper did not elaborate on which species have experienced declines but said the B.C. Government has been working collaboratively with the Tahtlan Nation since 2017 to improve wildlife populations and management.

Under the new Tahltan policy, Tahltan members who harvest predatory species will be required to utilize each species to the extent possible for cultural purposes such as food, clothing, regalia, tools, medicine and/or ceremony.

The Tahltan policy will be implemented by TCG’s wildlife department that will also record harvest numbers from the Tahltan people.

“We don’t want to get to a place where we have our caribou in pens and we’re treating them like livestock,” Day said.

“We need to take a stance now before things get to a crisis situation.”

In 2018, the province approved a series of moose hunting regulation changes, collaboratively developed with Tahltan, to reduce conflicts among people and impacts to wildlife in areas with relatively easy access that tend to concentrate activities, noted Hooper.

That year, the province also announced $3 million to funding to the Tahltan and neighbouring Kaska and Taku River Tlingit First Nations to work together on wildlife stewardship and management priorities, including population assessments and monitoring activities that can inform management priorities.

Through a portion of the funding, B.C. and the Tahltan Nation were able to co-design and deliver several important projects including the development of the Tahltan guardian program, wildlife health assessments, inventory updates and options for a wildlife co-management.

“It is too early to determine whether these actions are successful and the Province of B.C. continues to collaboratively monitor the hunting regulation changes made in 2018 to see if the objectives are being met,” Hooper said.

“The province recognizes, respects and supports the rights of the Tahltan people to exercise and practice cultural wildlife management practices.”

A non-essential travel ban to Tahltan territory remains in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the TCG drew the ire of non-Indigenous hunters by blocking hunter access throughout the Tahltan territory, preventing hunters with government-issued tags from harvesting animals.

At that time, Day said the blockades were needed due to critically limited medical services and infrastructure.

BC Wildlife Federation director of fish and wildlife restoration Jesse Zeman said there is growing frustration with declining wildlife values across British Columbia.

“What you’re seeing now is frustration as a result of the lack of the Province meaningfully funding and applying science as it [relates] to fish and wildlife management,” he said.

“I expect you’ll [see] more and more of this. We saw the Tsilhqot’in Nation say they were going to put together their own caribou recovery plan as well, and a lot of this comes back to this systemic issue around under-funding and a lack of prioritization of fish and wildlife values in the province.”

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