Conservation effort has become controversial as Metis association insists on its members’ right to continue with the hunt
Karen Moore could have shot a moose this fall in Manitoba.
She decided not to for several reasons, but mostly because preserving the moose population is more important to her than the right to hunt.
“When all the resources are gone and all the moose are gone from this area, it won’t matter who has rights and who doesn’t,” said Moore, who has a mixed farm near Birch River, Man., which is north of Swan River.
“I have those rights but I’m not going to exercise them because I feel the moose population does need to come up.”
Moore is Metis and in mid-October the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) held a draw, issuing 26 tags for Metis harvesters to shoot moose in the Porcupine and Duck Mountains region of the province.
The draw was controversial because earlier in October the provincial government extended a ban on moose hunting in the Duck Mountain and Porcupine mountains, along with other parts of Manitoba.
Moose hunting has been prohibited in the area since 2011.
“Despite these conservation closures, the moose population has not recovered… due to illegal hunting pressures and natural causes,” the province said in a statement.
The Manitoba Metis Federation disagreed with the provincial ban, arguing the government cannot stop Metis people from hunting moose
“We have a right (to hunt) — there’s a big difference,” said MMF president David Chartrand, to the CBC. “We have a right, not a privilege.”
Connor Staub, MMF resource management co-ordinator, said the moose hunt will be a “limited and shared harvest of bull moose only.” Cows, calves and yearlings are off limits to Metis harvesters.
Recent population surveys in the Porcupine Mountains suggest there were 837 to 1,157 moose. In the Duck Mountains area, the survey showed a population of 1,841 to 2,519. That’s up slightly from a decade ago.
The MMF says it has letters from the province saying a two percent harvest of the moose population in the region would not cause harm.
“The only thing that has changed is that Indigenous peoples across Manitoba have aligned in opposition,” said Leah LaPlante of the MMF. “Now they want to further divide our province by spreading the false narrative that a harvest this season would be destabilize the moose population.”
Moore didn’t apply for a moose-hunting tag because she believes the population is too fragile in the Duck and Porcupine mountains Many Metis and First Nations people who she’s spoken with have a similar opinion.
“I’ve ran into fellow Metis people and they said, ‘no way, I’m not going to do this…. There’s no way I’m going to take a moose.’ ”
The 2011 ban on moose hunting was a huge loss for Moore.
When she was growing up near Birch River, moose meat was always in the freezer and hunting moose was a family tradition. Now, hunting and eating moose is something from the past.
“My kids they don’t ever remember eating moose meat. They did (eat it) maybe when they were little,” said Moore, who has 19-year-old twins, a son and daughter. Both of her children are hunters.
Moore said she is willing to make a personal sacrifice to preserve the moose population and said it’s frustrating when others poach moose or put their own interests and rights ahead of conservation.
“Most people I talk to feel it is totally wrong.”
Dean Barteski is one of those people.
Barteski, a mechanic who lives near the edge of the Duck Mountains, started hunting moose when he was 12. He’s now semi-retired and ran an outfitting business with his father for 25 years until his dad passed away.
In a telephone conversation, Barteski shared his frustrations with the MMF moose hunt and expressed a sense of loss about the decline of an important species.
“The locals here, we know what the moose population is like…. It’s very sad. It’s a sad situation.”
Issuing 26 moose tags to Metis hunters doesn’t seem like a lot, but Barteski believes the number will be much higher because the MMF’s decision sends a message to First Nations’ groups — it’s legal to hunt moose.
He recently spoke to a conservation officer who stopped two people hunting moose in the region.
“The (officer) said, ‘what are you doing? This is still illegal.’ (They said), ‘oh, our chief told us we could do this.’ ”
Bears, wolves and disease are also killing moose in the Duck and Porcupine Mountains.
While more should be done about predators, perhaps a bounty on bears, Moore worries about the consequences of the Metis federation’s decision.
Some Metis people want to hunt moose, but they didn’t apply for a tag because they’re worried about the legal consequences, she said.
The province is committed to enforcing the ban on moose hunting, which means Metis hunters could be arrested.
The MMF and Manitoba government have both said the dispute over the Indigenous right to hunt will make its way to court.
Barteski and others who live near the Duck and Porcupine mountains may wind up as witnesses in court. An informal group is patrolling the woods, looking for poachers and illegal hunting of moose.
They take photos of licence plates and report information to the poacher tip line to assist provincial conservation officers who are “understaffed,” Barteski said.
“All we can really do… is stay in the woods as much as we can…. You can report what you see and hear. But definitely nobody wants somebody to get involved. (Don’t) try and do a citizen’s arrest or anything like that.”
Barteski feels the action of locals is warranted because someone has to stop people who he said are hunting moose illegally.