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Progress in Managing the Moose Hunt in Cape Breton

first_imgOn the last week of the licensed moose hunting season on Hunter’s Mountain in Cape Breton this fall, Roger Lewis, an archaeologist with the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, is on a hunt of a different kind. He is in possession of a 4,500 year-old arrowhead and some rather rough co-ordinates given to him by the hunter who found it. After a spin down a couple of side roads, Lewis is quickly out of his truck with his global positioning system (GPS) in tow. His maps are quickly spread out on the tailgate of his 4 X 4. In an instant, he locates a small stream, hustles down the embankment and is gone. Two other Mi’kmaq from Membertou — an elder, Lawrence Wells, and Clifford Paul — disappear as well, following the stream in the other direction. When they reappear, Lewis is holding court, pointing to the maps and tracing the likely route the Mi’kmaq would have taken inland. “They are like every other people,” says Lewis. “They took the easiest route inland from the coast, and that was by water.” Although the Mi’kmaq in Cape Breton spent most of the year on the coast and estuaries of Cape Breton, they moved inland in the early winter to hunt big game. The biggest of the big game is the moose, and in particular the Cape Breton Highlands moose, capable of reaching 1,400 pounds and sometimes having racks that are more than five feet wide. With the arrival of the Europeans and settlement of Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia, the moose hunt was joined by the new settlers. Moose were sought because of the succulence of the meat and the yield. A successful hunt would feed a family for a whole winter. Although the moose herd is now endangered on mainland Nova Scotia, it has made a comeback in Cape Breton. After being totally wiped out in Cape Breton by the end of the 1800s, a reintroduction of 18 moose from Elk Island National Park in Alberta in 1949 has grown to a healthy population of 6,000-7,000 animals. Indeed, the introduction was successful enough that a moose hunt was reestablished in the Highlands in 1986. Typically, the Department of Natural Resources will annually process almost 12,000 applications (almost a quarter of all hunters in the province) for only 335 licences. The odds of getting a licence are roughly 33-1, so a hunter can go a lifetime without having the opportunity of hunting one. The number of moose harvested by Mi’kmaw hunters has increased in recent years. The size of their hunt is difficult to quantify because currently there is no mandatory reporting system. “We know the majority of Mi’kmaw harvesters are role model hunters who go to the highlands to feed their families and bring moose meat to the communities,” says Clifford Paul, a Mi’kmaw co-ordinator with the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, a Mi’kmaw institute that deals with resource management issues at Eskasoni First Nation. “At the same time, we also get reports of some individuals taking more than their share. Increasingly, we see non-natives participating on hunts with some of our people, and that is a concern to our elders and communities.” Mi’kmaw elders raised concerns about the moose population and they requested that discussions begin with the province and the federal government to bring the shared moose population under some rational joint management. In 2005, the process was formalized and has become known as the Cape Breton Highlands Moose Management Initiative. The moose management initiative is possible because of a 2001 agreement between the province, federal government and the Mi’kmaq to deal with constitutional rights issues. Under a process the province is calling “Made-in-Nova Scotia Negotiation Process,” all parties have the ability to deal with issues as they arise. One of the first of those issues is moose. “The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Mi’kmaq have the right to hunt, fish and trade products for a moderate livelihood,” says Paul. “The Mi’kmaq agree on the need for conservation and the importance of safety, and it was the Mi’kmaq who asked for an increased enforcement presence this year.” “All parties agree on the need for conservation and the enforcement of safety,” says Tom Soehl, the director of negotiations for the province.” Progress is being made and a working group now meets monthly to move the process forward. The 13 Mi’kmaq chiefs have authorized the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources to lead the negotiation. There is broad-based consensus on all sides on the need to develop a long-term moose management plan. Clifford Paul has begun to hold public meetings in Mi’kmaw communities across the province to see what consensus exists and what steps are necessary to come up with a management plan that works. New enforcement initiatives this year have included making it an offence for non-natives to be in possession of more than 100 pounds of moose meat from a Mi’kmaw. Both parties now have to come in to Department of Natural Resources offices to acquire permits to do an exchange. Both the government and the Mi’kmaq agree that the beneficiaries of the Mi’kmaw hunt should be the Mi’kmaq and not non-natives buying large quantities of meat. “Both native and non-native hunters responded positively this year to an increased enforcement presence,” says Bruce Nunn, regional enforcement co-ordinator with provincial Department of Natural Resources. “Officers often heard comments like I’m glad to see you guys up here.” Nunn also says having a Mi’kmaw officer as part of the enforcement effort contributed significantly to the increased level of compliance on part of hunters. He says the Mi’kmaq will become an increasing part of the enforcement effort. Clifford Paul says that the Mi’kmaw people recognize that with rights come responsibilities. “The Mi’kmaq are committed to developing a plan leading to a long-term sustainable moose harvest on Cape Breton,” he says. -30-last_img read more