A grassroots committee looking into the decline of the moose population in western Quebec is calling for the provincial government to extend its sports hunting ban in La Verendrye wildlife reserve, and collaborate with Anishnabe (Algonquin) communities on a better management plan.
"Parc La Vérendrye is one of the biggest lands that we have left," said Shannon Chief, a member of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, on Friday in Montreal.
"We want to be able to safeguard the moose but also in a way safeguard the food that we eat, our home, our place of culture."
The decline in moose population in the area has long been a concern for communities in and around the wildlife reserve, which is located about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal and is a part of traditional Anishnabe territory.
Chief co-ordinated a newly released report by the Anishnabe Moose Committee, a grassroots group with representation from eight communities in Quebec and Ontario.
The 54-page report is based on a year of research, consultation, and workshops conducted in nine of the Anishnabe communities. It includes first-hand accounts and knowledge about the moose from elders, hunters, land users and knowledge keepers.
The research concluded that sports hunting and deforestation have been the two main driving forces in the decline of the population.
"It's been a crisis for a long time," said Mike Diabo, a committee member from Kitigan Zibi.
Quebec's ministry of forests, wildlife and parks conducted an aerial survey of the moose population during the winter of 2020. The results showed a "slightly lower" population density, which the ministry did not deem critical at the time.
Unhappy with the government's response to calls for a moratorium on sports hunting, members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake took the matter into their own hands during the fall hunting season in both 2019 and 2020.
A number of checkpoints along Quebec's Highway 117 were erected to turn away non-Indigenous hunters, which led to the government of Quebec and the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council reaching an agreement the following year for a temporary moratorium on sports hunting in the park.
The committee wants the ban extended another two to five years.
The committee is also calling for forestry operations to cease, and for the Quebec government to support the creation of an Anishnabe-led moose management plan. The plan is a holistic approach that takes into account protecting the population and Anishnabe right to harvest.
"One thing is clear: a moose management plan must be guided by our own communities, grounded in our own knowledge and our relationships with our moose relatives," the report states.
Province plans joint study
For Diabo, the issue is a concern for food sovereignty.
"For people who live in the territory, their source of food and their ancestral food systems is being destroyed," said Diabo.
"That might not mean much for people to live in towns and cities and have access to food. But for people like Shannon's family and our families live out there and rely on that."
The committee said the report is just a first step. They hope it opens discussions with the different levels of governments and Sépaq, the provincial government agency that manages the wildlife reserve.
First Nations and Inuit relations Minister Ian Lafrenière's office said there will be a gradual resumption of sport hunting in the territory in 2023-2024 as per the agreement signed between Quebec and the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.
A spokesperson for Lafrenière said there is also a plan to conduct a joint study on the state of the moose population which will include an advisory committee made up of biologists from the ministry and Anishnabe nation. A committee of elders will also be set up for them to share their knowledge and views on moose management.
CBC News has asked Benoit Charette, minister of Environment, the fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks for comment on the report, but has not yet received a response.