Elders, trappers from Alberta First Nation ask province to protect bison herd

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LITTLE RED RIVER, Alta. — Some trappers and elders from Alberta's Little Red River Cree Nation are asking the province to protect a dwindling Wabasca Wood Buffalo bison herd.

In a letter to Environment Minister Jason Nixon, they ask for immediate action to end unregulated hunting by legally protecting the herd.

No one from Alberta Environment immediately returned a request for comment.

The letter says the Wabasca Wood Buffalo herd has plummeted in size to as few as nine animals.

It says the herd is culturally and ecologically important as one of the few disease-free, free-ranging Wood Buffalo herds in Canada.

There are only two other disease-free herds in Alberta — in Ronald Lake and Hay Zama — and both have protections that prohibit unregulated hunting.

"The persistence of this genetically unique, disease-free herd is critical to the recovery of the species," says the letter, which is signed by trappers Johnson Alook, Sylvester Auger and Lorne Tallcree.

"It has been our observation that unregulated harvesting targets the largest members of the herd and that when this herd is faced with the threats originating from predators, the largest members of the herd protect the young by forming a protective shield around them.

"Thus, we believe the unregulated harvesting weakens the protective capacity of the herd and has a compounding effect towards herd extinction."

They said urgent action must be taken, so future generations of the Little Red River Cree Nation can exercise ceremonial use and have food security from the herd.

"The current situation, as it trends now towards herd extinction, does not uphold the honour and integrity of the Crown in protecting our treaty right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021

The Canadian Press