FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – South Peace MLA Mike Bernier says he’s concerned the province is creating a racial divide in the Peace with their proposed moose and caribou hunting restrictions.

The proposed regulations would see the closure of all licensed caribou hunts in the Peace and put moose hunts in the region on the limited entry hunting draw system, intending to decrease the number of moose taken by licensed hunters by 50 per cent while also decreasing the number of licensed moose hunters by the same percentage.

Bernier believes that the government’s decision is based solely on politics.

“My fear is, and what I’m starting to hear, is that the government is actually creating and continually creating almost a racial divide here. I feel very bad for the First Nations in our region who are being caught in the middle because the government’s making announcements without talking to people without talking to all of the stakeholders and all of the different clubs,” Bernier said.

“The challenge there is I’m even hearing from a lot of First Nations locally that are contacting me kind of off the record saying they are getting very frustrated with the government trying to put them in the middle of this.”

Energeticcity reached out to the ministry of Indigenous affairs for a response to Bernier’s comments and was directed to the ministry of forests.

Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy rebuked Bernier’s comments and says the regulations are an attempt to create a better future for everyone residing in the Peace.

“Mr. Bernier’s attempts to stoke racial divides are disturbing and frankly represent an outdated approach. In 2019, all members of the B.C. legislature stood together to support enshrining the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law. Our government remains dedicated to living up to that commitment,” Conroy said.

“Our goal is to bring communities together, not divide them. It’s important to remember that these conversations are focused on addressing the ability of Treaty 8 First Nations to continue their way of life and the impacts of industrial development on their rights,” Conroy said.

Conroy says she has personally met with B.C.’s hunting community members to ensure their views are heard as part of this process.

Bernier has also had multiple conversations with hunters in the region who have expressed concerns regarding the restrictions.

“There’s a lot of hunters in this region who hunt for sustenance. They’re looking at the annual moose hunt up here for putting the meat in the freezer for their families,” Bernier said.

He adds that there is added frustration among residents who see no scientific basis for the province’s decision.

“Hunters I’ve spoken to have said if there’s a science that backs up the reasons for changes or restrictions, most hunters will follow that. Everybody I’ve talked to says, look, we want to be sustainable. The frustration is that there is no science to back up the restrictions that the government’s trying to bring in,” Bernier said.

According to the province, the proposed regulations aim to address the ability of Treaty 8 First Nations to continue their way of life. They add that it also looks to address impacts from industrial development highlighted in the Supreme Court of B.C.’s ruling in favour of Blueberry River First Nation last year.

The ministry of forests says the province has consulted with Treaty 8 Nations and is now engaging with hunting stakeholders regarding potential changes to the current hunting regulations, including a reduction in the number of moose hunted as a response to the implications of the court case.

The province says proposed hunting regulations are an interim measure and only one part of a broader package of actions specific to improving wildlife stewardship, upholding Treaty rights, habitat conservation, and the future of resource management.

The B.C. Liberal caucus also aims to ensure hunters are heard and will be hosting a virtual roundtable on March 30th.

Residents have until March 23rd to provide their feedback to the province. More information on how to do so can be found here.

Energeticcity reached out to Blueberry River First Nation and the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, both of whom were unavailable for immediate comment.