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Moose population stats a shot in the dark: MLA

In an address to the legislature Tuesday, Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson took aim at Environment Minister Barry Penner.

He blamed shoddy wildlife populations statistics and diminished funding for a conflict that has left hunters “caught in the middle” between Tahltan protestors and government hunting regulations in northwestern B.C.

A lack of science appears to be at the root of the conflict in the Dease Lake and Iskut areas, where, as The Tyee reported earlier this week, Tahltan blockaders have prevented resident hunters from accessing popular hunting grounds within their traditional territory.

In his address, Donaldson blasted the B.C. Liberals for cutting the Ministry of Environment’s budget for the current fiscal year by nearly 30 per cent over last year.

“As we speak, members of the Tahltan nation in northwest B.C. are restricting road access on their traditional territories to moose hunters from all parts of the province,” the New Democratic Party MLA told the legislature. “This is an area of high unemployment. Many Tahltan depend on moose meat for food. If it wasn’t for the moose meat in the freezer, people would go hungry.”

The Tahltan have been blockading two locations — the Telegraph Creek Highway west of Dease Lake and the Klappan Road turnoff near Iskut — since late November.

Supported by the Tahltan Central Council and local band councils, the protestors say they have repeatedly asked government for a more comprehensive moose population study for the area. They also say that most resident hunters turned away at the blockades recognize the need for better science and are sympathetic to their concerns.

According to Donaldson, the province hasn’t performed a proper moose inventory since the 1980s. He blamed a lack of resources for hampering the Ministry of Environment’s ability to deal with the situation.

The Ministry of Environment says it performed random block studies of moose for the Klappan Valley in 2001 and Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park in 1990. Donaldson questioned the lack of local input into the studies.

“The big issue is the Tahltan have no confidence in the data,” he says. “From my perspective, these are the people on the ground that live their lives on the land base. It’s the local knowledge that’s lacking.”

With plans moving ahead for a transmission line into Tahltan territory via Highway 37, which would turn the northwest into the province’s economic engine, Tahltan Central Council chair Annita McPhee has expressed concern that government needs to better respond to local concerns. Donaldson concurred.

“I’ve said the recently announced $130-million funding towards the transmission line could be good for the north if the B.C. Liberals get their act together. And here is a prime example,” Donaldson said. “We need to do this type of inventory work now in areas that are likely to be developed as a result of the proposed transmission line. And the Tahltan are ready. Otherwise the likelihood of future disruptions increases and that isn’t good for any of us living in the northwest.”

Environment ministry representatives say Penner will not meet with the Tahltan until the barricades, which the province says are illegal, are removed. However, the Tahltan say they intend on continuing the blockades — with plans for a third — at the start of moose season next August.

Amanda Follett reports for the Tyee.

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