From August to January, it’s hard to find a trapper in the North.
Most are deep in the bush, working traplines that, in some cases, have been in use for hundreds of years.
So they probably haven’t heard the news yet: they’ll have one less customer for their furs this year — and she’s a big one.
Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, announced last week she would no longer purchase fur.
“Our only comment on this story is as follows: As new outfits are designed for the Queen, any fur used will be fake,” wrote her communications secretary.
The palace said that doesn’t mean fur on existing outfits will be replaced or that the Queen would never wear fur again. “The Queen will continue to re-wear existing outfits in her wardrobe.”
Gordon Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said, “The trappers I know are all out on their lines currently.
“At the same time all would be disappointed with the decision.”
Rosemarie Kuptana, an Inuk former politician and cultural advocate, said she was “somewhat shocked, and then disappointed.
“I think it’s a real departure from the commitment to Inuit as a people … because fur is important to our way of life.”
Decision follows public opinion
The Queen’s decision follows those made by the world’s biggest fashion houses to ditch using fur in their designs — Gucci, Prada and Armani among them.
D’Arcy Moses, a Dene fashion designer with a workshop in Enterprise, N.W.T. who uses fur in some of his work, said the shift has been the result of “pressure … from the really strong anti-fur movement in Europe and the U.K.
“The whole gamut of the industry has done an about-face,” said Moses. “No one wears mink coats anymore.”
Financially, it’s another blow to a Canadian fur industry that appears to be in terminal decline.
Just last month, the world’s second largest fur auction house, North American Fur Auctions — a former subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company with over three centuries of history — went into creditor protection.
It now says wild and farmed fur auctions planned for 2020 are unlikely to go ahead.
Industry assessments show some tanned and taxidermied products remain in high demand at auctions, and Jackie Yaklin, secretary treasurer for the Yukon Trappers Association, said wild trappers are responding by increasingly sending pelts to be tanned out of territory.
But Mark Downey, chief executive officer of Fur Harversters, Canada’s other major fur auction house, wrote in his 2019 wild fur market forecast that “many fur species are selling below acceptable levels” — even if a surge in Chinese interest led to a moderate recovery in prices this summer.
Even beyond the industry impact, the Queen’s rejection of new fur carries an important symbolic weight, ending a centuries-long relationship with northern Indigenous trappers.
It’s a real departure from the commitment to Inuit as a people … because fur is important to our way of life.– Rosemarie Kuptana, Inuk former politician and cultural advocate
“What she wears is very important,” said Kuptana. “She is, after all, a world leader, a monarch” of 16 Commonwealth countries, “and in these … countries, there are Indigenous people who [have a] relationship with the land that requires them to hunt and trap.”
“The fur trade was how Canada was made,” she said. “It’s how Canada was built…. So fur was always a very important aspect of our relationship with the royalty.”
Trading fur ‘to the liking of the colonizers’
Francois Paulette helped found the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories, the precursor to today’s Dene Nation. He also sued the Crown over the treaty rights of Indigenous people in 1972 in a famous case known as the “Paulette caveat.”
Paulette said what the Queen decides to wear is “her business.” But he added that the failure of the fur industry could be grounds for another lawsuit against the Crown.
“It was the Hudson’s Bay [Company] … that initiated trapping into our part of the world,” said Paulette. “Trapping became a way of life that never existed.”
Paulette said the meteoric rise of the fur trade fundamentally altered northerners’ relationship to the land and animals.
“Before that … our people, the Dene, lived in balance with nature, and we took what we needed,” he said.
“But something changed, and that was when the Hudson’s Bay [Company], along with the British Crown, came to our lands. From there on, our whole civilization, our way of life began to change to the liking of the colonizers.”
Now, Paulette said, with the bottom falling out of the fur trade, Dene people are left at loose ends, with a marred relationship to nature.
Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.
In the early morning hours of an October day in 2010, Rick and Linda Desautel left their hunting camp on traditional Sinixt lands near Vallican, British Columbia, and drove to the steep, thickly forested hills a few miles away. After the road faded to gravel, they turned left at a blue Valhalla Provincial Park sign, and continued to climb. At seven in the morning, Rick spotted a cow elk and a calf down a steep embankment, standing among the shrubs about 100 yards away. They rolled to a stop off the road and crept back toward the elk. Rick raised his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle, aimed down the hill, and shot the elk.
Six years later, in a courtroom in Nelson, British Columbia, Desautel described his relationship to the area like this: “When I come up here, I’m walking with the ancestors.… It just runs chills up and down me that I can be where my ancestors were at one time, and do the things that they did.” Desautel, a member of the Arrow Lakes Band, descendants of the Sinixt, bent to work dressing the carcass: He pulled out the heart and liver, then quartered the meat.
Linda sweated up and down the hillside, a packboard heavy with a hundred pounds of elk strapped to her back, the climb slippery with frost. After loading up the truck, the two went back to camp to hang up the white cloth game bags, full of meat and spotted with blood. Then they drove until they had cell reception, called the game wardens and told them what they’d done.
The Canadian government had declared the Arrow Lakes Band “extinct” in 1956, after the death of the last known member in Canada. But just south of the U.S.-Canada border, Arrow Lakes Band members were alive and well on the Colville Reservation in Washington, where the Desautels live. The planning behind the hunt had been in the works for years — some would say decades — and it was a strategic attempt to force the Canadian government to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band’s right to hunt and, by extension, its tribal sovereignty.
To the Arrow Lakes Band, what Rick Desautel had done was a ceremonial hunt on land his ancestors had never ceded to the Canadian government. But to Canada, it was a crime.Although the charges eventually brought against Desautel were for hunting, at the heart of the case is something bigger — whether or not Canada will have to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band as a modern First Nation, acknowledging their right to hunt and use their traditional lands. If Desautel loses, it means the Lakes will remain, in the government’s eyes, “extinct.”
THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION are composed of the Arrow Lakes Band and 11 other tribes from the region, who share a 1.4 million-acre reservation in Washington state. To go forward with the hunt, the tribal council representing the 12 bands had to agree to support it, and the court case they knew would follow. For months leading up to the 2010 hunt, tribal officials spoke with their British Columbian counterparts and with wildlife biologists, explaining their plans. The Canadians continued to insist that Arrow Lakes Band people did not “presently exist” in the province. The tribal representatives, who had expected as much, responded that they were going ahead with the hunt regardless.
Afterward, prosecutors charged Rick Desautel with hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident of Canada. (Linda Desautel was not charged.) He pled not guilty.
Desautel’s case is unique because the Lakes are, as far as they know, the only First Nation to receive an explicit declaration of “extinction.” But his case, if it succeeds, means that other tribes cut off by the U.S.-Canada border with Aboriginal ties to the land could make a First Nations claim, too, even if their members aren’t Canadian residents. And that would require Canada to consult with those nations if any activity or development could impact their traditional lands. The right to own, use and control ancestral lands is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Canada announced its full support of the U.N. declaration in 2016, the same year Desautel’s case went to trial, as “Canada’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.”
During the trial, Desautel and other Arrow Lakes Band members listened while experts debated their existence in Canada. The judge ruled in favor of Desautel on March 17, 2017. But the B.C. government has since appealed twice, most recently to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has yet to decide if it will hear the case. (Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.) During his preliminary hearing, Desautel recalls, an interim court lawyer told him, “You’re going to go to the Supreme Court with this case, you know, but when you do get there, you’re going to be an old, old man.” Well, Desautel laughs now, at 67, “I’m starting to believe him.”
RICK DESAUTEL WAS ABOUT 10years old the winter he went on his first deer hunt. He’d been trapping small animals for years already, rambling the pine woods and grassy meadows around his grandmother’s house in Inchelium, on the Colville Reservation, with his brother Tony. They’d shoot ground squirrels and grouse with a .22-caliber Remington rifle and bring the meat home. But the deer hunt was something else — it was a rite of passage. “When that day comes, it’s mind-shaking,” Desautel said.
Since his dad had died when Rick was young, it was Tony who took him out, borrowing a .25-35 lever-action rifle from the neighbors. The pair pushed through seven inches of snow, up to a ridge about 15 miles from home, when two mule deer jumped out about a hundred yards away. Rick aimed for the buck, but he hit the doe instead, bringing her down. “When it’s your first deer, it’s distributed with the community. None of it is ever kept,” Desautel said. “Everything that you kill is gone; deer hide, deer head, deer hooves, deer meat.” But, he added, you get the honor, “and glory.”
As a former game warden for the Colville Tribes, Desautel is used to testifying in court in cases involving poachers or drug smugglers. As in his everyday life, he’s consistent and unflappable on the stand. He has a deep knowledge of Colville Reservation lands, and has spent most of his life outside: 23 years as a logcutter on top of a lifetime of trapping and hunting. He’s survived half a dozen falls through ice in the winter and getting caught in a beaver trap. In 2006, while still working as a game warden, he shot down a floatplane smuggling $2 million worth of drugs onto the reservation. As a wild animal damage control officer — his current title — part of his job involves removing wildlife, “whether it be bats in your attic, elk in your field, bear on your porch.” At the direction of the tribal council, Desautel also carries out ceremonial hunts for community events. And he’s hunted in Sinixt territory over the Canadian border since 1988.
Rick and Linda Desautel live in a tidy log cabin on 40 acres of land, with a view of a meadow and Twin Lakes in the distance. In August, golden grasses shush in the breeze while sunflowers nod along the road. Linda grew up in Omak, three mountain passes to the west, just over the bridge from the reservation’s border. Now a school custodian, she’s also been a stay-at-home mom as well as a corrections officer. Together they’ve fostered fawns, hawks, eagles and other wildlife. People too; even after raising six kids, they’re always providing for more.
They’ve also been partners in resistance. In 1988, Arrow Lakes Band tribal members got word that the construction of a road near Vallican, B.C., in Sinixt territory, was going to affect Sinixt graves. A caravan of people went to Vallican to block the road; including the Desautels and their kids. In the end, the road was built and the graves relocated to a property called the Big House, which the Arrow Lakes Band bought as a home base in their ancestral territory. But had the Arrow Lakes Band been a recognized First Nation, the result may have been different.
That was the first time Desautel had the chance to talk with a whole community of Lakes people, standing together for a purpose. At the same time, he got to see the lands that generations before him had inhabited. “It infuriated me that people would desecrate graves and stuff like this here, and pick up their bones and move them,” Desautel said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready for it. I’ll head up there and see what I can do to stop this.’ And that’s what I did.”
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE LONGemployed hunting and fishing as a form of civil disobedience. It’s been a critical method for getting courts and governments to recognize tribal nations’ legal rights to land, water and wildlife — even freedom of religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, tribal members in the Pacific Northwest, from the Nisqually Tribe to the Yurok Tribe, were beaten and arrested for salmon fishing in defiance of state laws that violated their treaty rights. Their actions resulted in multiple victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, reaffirming their right to fish. And more recently, in 2014, Clayvin Herrera and several other Crow tribal members shot and killed three bull elk without a license off-reservation in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. The state charged Herrera with poaching, but a Supreme Court decision in 2019 upheld the Crow Tribe’s rights to hunt on “unoccupied lands of the United States,” in accordance with its pre-statehood treaty with the federal government.
In Canada, important cases testing Indigenous rights include the 1990 decision in R v. Sparrow. In 1984, Ronald Sparrow, Musqueam, was arrested for deliberately using a fishing net twice as long as legally allowed. While lower courts found him guilty, the Supreme Court of Canada found that his ancestral right to fish was not extinguished by colonization and remained valid. “It’s definitely a very common tactic to use in Canada, which raises a lot of interesting questions about having to break the law to get certain (First Nations) rights recognized,” said Robert Hamilton, assistant professor of law at the University of Calgary.
“The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land.”
Desautel is navigating the Canadian court system and the unique histories between Canadian federal and provincial governments and Indigenous nations. Early in Canada’s history, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, tribal nations on the eastern side of the continent signed treaties with the federal government. But as settlers pushed west, that stopped. As a result, First Nations in what is now British Columbia ceded almost no territory to Canadians. “The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s attorney. “We’ve been wrestling for an extraordinarily long time to deal with those rights in large part because for many, many decades, the governments of the day, both federal and provincial, simply pretended they didn’t exist — that there were no such rights.”
That began to change with First Nations land claims — when tribal nations pursue legal recognition of their right to land and resources — which set the stage for Desautel. A landmark case brought by Nisga’a Chief Frank Calder in 1973 was the first time that the Canadian courts recognized that unceded First Nation lands exist. Another big change came in 1982, when Canada’s Constitution was amended to explicitly protect Aboriginal rights. That, together with other early court cases, resulted in a modern-day treaty process as an alternative to costly court proceedings. More than 25 treaties between First Nations and the Canadian government have since been negotiated over territory, water and other resources, with more in progress. Many First Nations are not participating, however, instead calling for an overhaul of the process.
Michael Marchand, a former Colville tribal chairman and Lakes tribal member who helped plan Desautel’s hunt, said that the Arrow Lakes Band were concerned that, as other First Nations in B.C. began to make land claims through the courts or treaties, its own claims could get edged out. But before the band could officially assert its ownership over its ancestral lands, it had to re-establish its legal presence as a First Nation.
The core of Desautel’s defense was the evidence that the Sinixt people inhabited the valleys and riversides around the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes before Canada’s government existed. He and his legal team also demonstrated that their lifeways persisted throughout colonization, as Arrow Lakes Band members, and that they never ceded their Aboriginal rights. It’s been shown in court through Sinixt sturgeon-nose canoes, a main source of transportation before the Columbia River was dammed. It’s been shown through their place-based language and family trees. It’s been shown through the stories of Sinixt culture persisting, despite tribal members being killed by settlers and pressured out of their land, or swept off to boarding schools. It’s also been shown through Canada’s own laws: An 1896 law passed by British Columbia, for example, made it illegal for non-resident Indians to hunt. That is proof, said Underhill, of how many Indigenous people cut off by the border were continuing their way of life despite colonization.
One of the difficulties of the case is how few living tribal elders can speak to that history, because so many from that time have died. Still, the words they left behind remain influential. Shelly Boyd, Arrow Lakes Band facilitator and tribal member, represents Lakes interests in Canada with community members and First Nations. She points to a series of letters that had a strong impact, written by Arrow Lakes members Alex and Baptiste Christian, her husband’s ancestors, and sent to Indian Affairs agents in 1909. The Christians requested that the agents reserve lands around Brilliant, British Columbia, for the Arrow Lakes tribal members. The areas contained graves and were their home prior to settlement. Instead, the agents sold them to someone else, and the bones were eventually churned up under settlers’ plows. “It was a really sad story,” Boyd said. But the mark that they left mattered. “They lived through a time where after all of their work and all of their sadness and all of their pain, they had to leave … but those letters that they wrote, they helped us win this case.”
Desautel is matter-of-fact about the lawsuit, as he is generally about doing what needs to be done. The actual elk hunt itself was routine, much like the hundred or so hunts that came before it. When he turned himself in to the game wardens, he knew they were just doing their jobs. “If I let (the charges) pass, it’s going to go on to the next generation,” Desautel said. “I’m gonna throw out an anchor now. I mean, if it doesn’t hold and I go dragging on through life, my daughter or my granddaughter can come along later on and say, ‘Look here, my grandfather was doing this here. He was up here. He was doing this.’ ”
If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and rules against Desautel, it would be the final say — period. “If we lose, we’re out of the game, we’re extinct,” Boyd said. Though 10 years younger than Desautel, Boyd knows him from growing up in Inchelium, where their grandmothers were best friends. She sees, and feels herself, what the land means to him. “He is risking something he loves very much.”
Regardless of the final outcome, Desautel will continue hunting in his ancestral lands in the years to come. If he loses, he shrugged, “They’re going to have to put handcuffs on me then.”
THE TRIAL PROGRESSED SPORADICALLY over four months. The early mornings and long days away from home wore Rick and Linda out, and court proceedings were often mind-numbingly boring; Linda joked that the prosecutors sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. In essence, the prosecution argued that the Sinixt people voluntarily left their lands, moving south to become farmers and abandoning their traditional lifeways, thus giving up their rights as a First Nation.
About halfway through the trial, Dorothy Kennedy, a leading ethnographer who documented Sinixt histories in the ’70s and ’80s, took the stand as an expert witness for the government. Despite her past work for the tribe and her conversations with Arrow Lakes elders, Kennedy did not consider the Arrow Lakes Band a First Nation. Nor did she believe that the Sinixt experienced racism from settlers. Instead, she testified about “isolated incidents” of harassment that went “both ways” — because, she said, the Arrow Lakes were Americans in Canada, not because they were Indigenous. In the report she submitted to the court, she wrote that instead of “meekly fleeing settlement … they enthusiastically took up a different lifestyle south of the border.” To Desautel and his team, it felt like a betrayal.
“I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
When Mark Underhill was hired by the Colville Tribe to take on Desautel’s case, multiple senior attorneys told him that they’d never win. But nearly four months after the trial finished, the judge found that Desautel was within his rights as an Aboriginal person to hunt within his ancestral territory. The courtroom, filled with Arrow Lakes tribal members and extended family, erupted in cheers and applause. So far, after two appeals, other judges have agreed with the first ruling. After the most recent one in March this year, from his office in Vancouver, B.C., Underhill called Rick and Linda on the phone at their home in Inchelium, and read the judge’s statement aloud on speakerphone. “(The judge) said some amazing things,” Linda said. “She made me cry.”
As long as the lower court ruling stands, the Canadian government now has a duty to consult with the Arrow Lakes Band concerning activities like logging and hydroelectric developments, or anything else that might impact their rights in the area. But there are also more intangible benefits of Desautel, as the decision has come to be known. “There’s some kind of indescribable freedom to it,” said Boyd. “I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
DESAUTEL AND THE ARROW LAKES BANDare still waiting to hear if Canada’s Supreme Court will take up the case; they could know by the end of this year. Despite the resolute language of the past three judges, the Desautels aren’t assuming they’ll win. “(We’ve) never felt totally confident,” Linda said. “You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.” Still — Rick wants them to take up the case, to have Canada’s highest court affirm his rights.
If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it ends in Desautel’s favor. But if the court takes it up, the case could drag on for another year or longer. Already, as Arrow Lakes Band facilitator, Boyd’s sights are set on what comes next for the tribe. They’ve reintroduced salmon to the upper Columbia River for the first time in almost 80 years and resumed canoe journeys using their traditional sturgeon-nosed canoes. Next, they’re planning to re-establish the Sinixt language, Nsyilxcen, in their territory. And every fall, Desautel will continue to cross the northern border to hunt.
“You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.”
The hillside in British Columbia where Desautel shot the cow elk is overgrown now, nine years later — 20-foot-tall white pine, tamarack and western hemlock trees crowd out the view of Slocan Valley below.In late September, not far from there, he explored the steep draws and thick forests of Sinixt lands for signs of elk. Scouting for game with Desautel, the place comes alive even without any wildlife in sight. Faint prints of a bear cub crossing a road. Scat of a bigger bear from the morning, bright with berries. Torn tree bark from where an elk rubbed its antlers two weeks before. Alder saplings stripped of their leaves, a snack for a meandering moose. After a life lived outside, Desautel can read the forest’s early autumn activity like a book he’s paged through a hundred times before.
Desautel doesn’t usually hunt until later in October, when the days are colder. For now, he’s exploring — glassing the countryside with his binoculars, occasionally bugling for elk, searching for a spot that “looks elk-y.” As he hiked back down to his red Toyota Tacoma, the shoulder-high fireweed released its seed tufts like a cloudburst, swirling in his wake. As he drove north, cresting over Strawberry Summit, Desautel looked out at the expanse before him. “This country is so vast,” he said with a note of pride. “I’ve only checked out 1% of 1%, and I’ve got hunting rights as far as the eye can see.”
On Ho Plaza, Lucy Contreras ’21 defiantly faced the Thursday afternoon passersby with the words “Fur Kills” painted across her abdomen and an apparently blood-drenched Canada Goose jacket wrapped around her body.
The blood was fake, as was the jacket — an imitation with a “Canada Douche” sticker where one would normally find the coat’s iconic sleeve patch.
Contreras, who is a Sun opinion columnist, and her fellow demonstrators aimed to raise awareness about the animal cruelty involved in making the products of the ubiquitous winter-time brand. The coats use goose feathers, most commonly obtained by plucking live geese without any painkillers, and leaving open wounds before they are killed, according to Contreras, president of Cornell Vegan Society and Sun opinion columnist.
The detachable fur trim around the hood of the coat is made of coyote fur, Contreras said. This fur is obtained by capturing wild coyotes in steel traps, where they are often left to agonize for days — suffering from gangrene, dehydration, or attacked by other predators before the trapper returns, according to PETA. If still alive at this point, they are bludgeoned, stomped, or strangled to death, said Contreras.
The demonstrators hoped that those who currently own Canada Goose products never buy from them again and donate the detachable coyote-fur trim of their coats. Several organizations, including PETA and the Wildlife Rescue League, accept donations of furs and redistribute them to rehabilitating animals in shelters or homeless people.
And for those who don’t own Canada Goose products, the demonstrators want them to consider animal cruelty when they buy products such as coats, pillows and comforters.
Chloe Cabrera grad, a participant in the demonstration, called for people to make more responsible consumer choices.
“Each Canada Goose jacket requires seven birds and two coyotes. That’s nine animals dying for virtually no reason, for an overpriced coat that works just as well as any vegan coat,” Cabrera said.
Ultimately, Contreras said, geese and coyotes suffer and die on behalf of the market demand for Canada Goose.
The demonstration was “eye-opening,” Paul Agbaje ’22 said after speaking with a protester.
“No matter how you feel about it, people seem to just mindlessly buy these Canada Goose jackets, without ever considering the ethical implications,” he said.
Other onlookers were less keen, making hostile comments about the demonstration as they walked by.
Contreras is understanding of negative responses like these. “I feel like this shame and this frustration is the beginning of a process of acceptance and of actually taking action against Canada Goose,” she said.
“We’re not blaming them,” Contreras said. “We just want them to know, in the future, to buy jackets that don’t have down or fur.”
Contreras declared the demonstration a success, describing it as one step towards a better public understanding of the relationship between everyday expenditures and animal exploitation.
She encourages friends and peers of Canada Goose wearers to engage them in dialogue. On campus, conversations about ethical consumption are on the rise — Cornell Vegan Society has risen from just a handful of members twoyears ago to about twenty five today, according to Contreras.
She wants them to know that, “with that social status, you are hurting a lot of beings in the process. And it’s not worth it.”
It comes a little over a week after six bears were shot in the space of three days in the area of Lake Okanagan Resort northwest of Kelowna. In that case, the bears were eating garbage that hadn’t properly been secured and had lost their fear of humans.
An undisclosed company near Kelowna was fined $230 and ordered to improve the way it stores its garbage.
Sprado implored people to safely secure bear attractants like garbage, fruit, as well as pet food, bird feeders, barbecues and compost.
A massive salmon die-off on Newfoundland’s south coast has led to the suspension of licences for Northern Harvest Sea Farms in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The die-off first occurred on Sept. 3, but information about the incident did not go public until weeks later.
No estimate for the amount of dead salmon in the Northern Harvest pens were disclosed until Friday, when the company announced 2.6 million salmon had died.
“As a result of the ongoing investigation and evidence of non-compliance, I am suspending all affected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms licences and issuing a directive that requires the company to continue the cleanup of the sites,” Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne said in a statement.
“I will be amending licence conditions to all unaffected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms and other associated MOWI licence sites in the coming days.”
As of Friday, the company was not made aware of what needed to be done for its licences to be reinstated. Northern Harvest communications director Jason Card says the government is drafting a letter detailing what is needed.
“Surprised by the suspension? Yes. Warranted? I think the minister has an obligation to protect the public good, so he’s doing what he thinks is best,” Northern Harvest managing director Jamie Gaskill said.
An initial number provided to the government was that two million fish had died, but after an addition 600,000 fish were found dead, the company updated the figure, triggering the suspension of the licence.
The massive death was not accompanied by a massive escape of farmed salmon, Gaskill said.
“There are no fish that have escaped. I am very confident,” he said.
Provincial regulations dictate that companies must report the escape of even a single fish, and no such reports have yet been issued.
The 2.6 million salmon carcasses will be delivered to another company to be processed and turned largely into cat food and other animal feed.
The company says sustained southwestern winds in the area of the farm caused increased temperatures near the sea farms housing the salmon. The company says the surface water near the pens warmed up and maintained an increased temperature over the course of weeks.
Because water near the surface was warmer than water further below, Gaskill said, the salmon followed their instinct, toward their demise.
“These fish want to go where it’s good for them. So, what they do, they nose down — it’s called sounding. Anybody that is familiar with herring, mackerel, lots of fish do this,” he said.
“They put their nose down, they try to get down to where it’s cool, where conditions are better, and they smother themselves.”
As for why information was slow getting to the public, Gaskill said his company “misinterpreted” the reporting requirements for the second mass die-off of salmon.
“That is our fault,” he said.
Card says information about the mass die-off was reported locally, but not to the public.
“To be clear, we did disclose to local stakeholders, mayors, indigenous first leaders, the FFAW, to our own staff when we observed this event, that it happened. To be clear, we also disclosed to government that we had a mass mortality on September 3.”
According to the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, new regulations were implemented on Thursday, enshrining for the first time a duty to publicly report mass deaths of farmed salmon.
Large deaths of farmed salmon are not rare within the aquaculture industry throughout the world.
According to the Ferret, a Scottish investigative news outlet, nine million farmed salmon have died in that country since 2016, between 760 reported mass deaths in the country. The mass salmon die-off in this province hit almost a third of that number in one incident.
Michael Montague, a specialist with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), says there are three separate entities that oversee differing aspects of the industry in that country.
SEPA oversees the concentration of fish in aquaculture pens and effluent coming from aquaculture projects, and determines how much chemicals and antibiotics are allowed to be used at any given time. SEPA has monthly monitoring programs for companies to comply with as part of their regulations.
“We don’t really look at the mortality aspect. The mortality aspect is covered by two legislative parts. There’s the Marine Scotland … they are very much focused on fish health. If there’s a certain percentage of fish lost, then they have to report that through Marine Scotland,” said Montague.
“Then, there’s also the Animal and Plant Health Agency. They have the regulations covered by animal byproducts regulations, and that looks at any kind of waste, from cattle to marine caged fish farms. They deal with those kinds of (mass death) incidents and how to deal with the waste coming from them and any concerns around that.”
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the aquaculture industry is largely regulated by the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). DFO declined an interview request from The Telegram.
Enforcement measures at the government’s disposal, according to the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, include a formal warning, followed by tickets ranging between $100 and $500, administrative penalties. Those charged with an offence under the act will be charged between $5,000 and $20,000 for a first offence and/or face one to six months in prison for a second offence, and up to a $50,000 to $100,000 fine and/or three to six months in prison for third-time offenders.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is expected to make a statement Tuesday about the incident.
Grizzly experts disturbed by photos of emaciated bears in Knight Inlet are calling for research to determine why they are suffering.
Photos of a sow and two cubs taken by wildlife photographer and tour guide Rolf Hicker raised alarms for some scientists, who said the bears were likely suffering due to an abysmal Pacific salmon return this year. Federal fisheries experts have pointed to climate change as the main reason for the poor return, and salmon are crucial to coastal grizzly bears’ diets.
Longtime grizzly researchers say a salmon shortage is the most obvious explanation for why the bears in Hickers’ photos are suffering, but said there could be other factors.
Dr. Ken Macquisten, a wildlife veterinarian and managing director for the Grouse Mountain wildlife refuge, said he was shocked by the photos. Had only a single bear been suffering, he would have questioned whether it had broken teeth or an intestinal blockage.
“But multiple bears would tend to point to some common reason, and a lack of food would be top of the suspect list, in my mind,” said Macquisten, who is a director for the Grizzly Bear Foundation.
Macquisten said grizzly bear researchers are concerned about B.C.’s salmon supply. The fish are crucial to west coast bears during their hyperphagic stage before hibernation, when an adult will eat 50,000-60,000 calories of food and gain three to four pounds each day. They are omnivores and also typically eat whitebark pine nuts, insects and berries.
But if they don’t eat enough before hibernation, they will wake up early and be forced to search for food during winter when it is scarce, he said. They could die of starvation.
“Because they can range over large areas, typically the bears will be able to go to somewhere else where the food is, so it’s a bit surprising why these (photographed) bears are in such a state,” he said. “Either they haven’t been able to find food over a wide area or they haven’t been moving.”
But Macquisten urged caution before drawing the conclusion that a salmon shortage is to blame, and said he hopes someone will locate one of the suffering grizzly bears to determine the exact cause.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said provincial biologists can’t confirm why the sow in Hicker’s photo appears to be in such poor shape.
The biologists don’t know its history and whether age, dental issues, injuries, or providing for cubs contributed to its state, the ministry said in an emailed reply to questions.
“The number of bears on the coast are stable to increasing and this often means more competition for resources,” the ministry said. “If salmon runs in the area are lower than expected, this will have an added effect and bears may have to travel further to find food.”
Government representatives are working with the Mamalilikulla First Nation to monitor the welfare of wildlife in the area.
The B.C. government has estimated 15,000 grizzly bears are in the province and said roughly 340 die each year of human-related causes. Of the 56 grizzly populations in B.C., nine are classified as threatened.
Dr. Cole Burton, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management at the University of B.C., also called for research into whether a poor salmon return and climate change are impacting the wellbeing of some bear populations.
“If we’re concerned about grizzly bears and how they might be responding to these changes, then we should try and support some more study on that, some more monitoring that’s tied to our management actions,” Burton said.
He wouldn’t jump to the conclusion, from the photos, that the suffering grizzly bears represent more widespread suffering, he said.
“It’s certainly consistent with these ideas around a reduction in salmon,” said Burton, who is the Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation. “But on its own, I don’t think it provides much evidence of the bigger-picture trends.”
Burton said that grizzly bear populations in B.C. are generally doing okay, but not thriving, mainly due to habitat loss caused by development and roadbuilding.
The government’s ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting in 2017 may have increased the number of bears’ competing for food, Burton said. Prior to the ban, an average of 297 grizzly bears were legally killed by hunters annually, according to provincial data.
“I’m not saying that that’s what we’re seeing here, but certainly we would want to know about the population,” Burton said.
Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar at the University of Alberta, has been working with grizzly bears for six years and is currently researching their population dynamics.
A poor salmon run is a “reasonable” explanation for the sow to be malnourished, Lamb said. But when salmon populations are low, grizzlies tend to move elsewhere in search of berries, and he wondered whether the bears in the photographs have that option.
“I think a couple of pictures don’t give us that larger population context,” he said.
Lamb said climate models for grizzly populations in B.C.’s Interior suggest that berries and other diet staples could, in fact, become more abundant as the climate changes.
“As far as food and climate change for bears, it’s not immediately concerning,” he said. “There’s undoubtedly going to be winners and losers in climate change, and I think it just so happens that some of those key berry species are going to be winners.”
Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer who is now conservation policy analyst with non-profit conservation organization Pacific Wild, said Hicker’s photos serves as a reminder that human behaviour can have an impact on wildlife.
“What we do know is there is food scarcity, currently, within the Great Bear Rainforest and coastal regions of B.C., which is causing problems for grizzly bears,” said Casavant, a PhD candidate at Royal Roads University.
“Salmon runs have declined, their ability to access natural food sources has decline. Habitat loss is a serious contributing factor to grizzly bear population recovery and stability.”
A mother black bear was illegally shot in a Keremeos vineyard between the evening of Sept. 30 and the morning of Oct. 1. Authorities are seeking any information related to this event, and B.C. Wildlife Federation is offering a reward of up to $2,000 for info that leads to a conviction. (Photo from Unsplash)
B.C. Wildlife Federation offers up to $2,000 reward for info leading to a conviction
Authorities are seeking the public’s help following the recent shooting of a black bear in a Keremeos vineyard.
According to Conservation Officer (CO) Clayton DeBruin, the sow is believed to have been shot between the evening of Sept. 30 and the morning of Oct. 1. He could not confirm whether the bear was shot in the vineyard, located on the 700 block of Bypass Road in Keremeos, or shot in another location and dumped there as the investigation is ongoing.
“She was a black bear, a light-coloured phased one, that was known to us and known to the community for many months since living in this area. She was shot and killed and basically left to waste,” said DeBruin. “She had two cubs this year and they’re roughly seven or eight months old now.”
DeBruin said there is “no open season for mother bears or a bear in its company, or bears under 2 years of age” and with the sow’s death, the likelihood of the cubs surviving the winter on their own is greatly reduced. This would equal a charge of hunting wildlife out of season.
“Bear cubs normally spend about 18 months with mom, so the likelihood of their survival is not as good as if they’d have their mom to show them where to find food throughout the seasons of the year and how to choose an appropriate den site through the winter,” said DeBruin. “They may survive but it’s obviously not ideal.”
DeBruin said he couldn’t speak to whether the sow was causing problems in the community such as rummaging through garbage, but did note that the cubs are not dependent on human food or waste in terms of diet. He said conservation officers in the area are currently trying to trap the cubs in order to relocate them to a rescue facility for the winter, but so far have been unsuccessful.
“Because they are at-risk, ideally they could be caught and sent to an orphaned bear rearing facility where they would be held throughout the winter and fed to the appropriate weight, then released into the wild in the spring,” said DeBruin. “We have a rehab facility in the North Interior that is willing to take them. We are actively trying to trap them, however, because they are not food-conditioned or garbage-conditioned, they are much harder to capture in a trap than a bear that is used to walking into human habituated areas, seeking out smelly food. These are just normal bears, so we’re still waiting to capture them since they’ve been sighted in the area after the mother was brought to our attention.”
Because the authorities were not contacted in time, DeBruin said they were unable to salvage any of the meat from the mother bear, adding a charge of failure to retrieve game under the Wildlife Act. These offences are ticket-able, but he said depending on the circumstance, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service can take the individual to court to request a higher fine.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation offers up to a $2,000 reward for any information leading to the conviction of these types of offences. DeBruin said the best way to reach out is to call the Report All Poacher and Polluters line at 1-877-952-7277, and that individuals can choose to remain anonymous.
“We’re hopeful we will track down those responsible. The Bypass Road is a well-travelled road and it’s likely that somebody may have been travelling by at the time of the offence and may have seen something or noticed something out of place, like a vehicle or person,” said DeBruin. “Or maybe they noticed the mother bear lying in the vineyard and can give us additional information on that. Any little tip can help us.”
Of the circumpolar world’s 19 subpopulations of polar bears, 12 are found mainly in Nunavut.
There are quotas now for each of those subpopulations—and defence kills fall under annual quotas for each community.
While the new plan won’t increase quotas right now, new total allowable harvests, as the quotas are called, will be considered as new data comes.
Under the previous plan, Nunavut communities could only hunt one female polar bear for every two male polar bears hunted through an annual allotment of community polar bear tags.
That applied everywhere except to a Baffin Bay subpopulation of polar bears, where a one-to-one male-female harvesting ratio was in place.
Under the new plan, it won’t make any difference if a polar bear harvested in Nunavut is a male or female, as long as the balance between males and females is maintained. Cubs will count as a half tag.
The new one-to-one harvest ratio should allow communities to continue with defence kills, when needed.
Polar bear incursions into communities have been an increasing concern in the territory after two deaths by polar bear mauling in the Kivalliq region last year—but, under the current management plan, the defence killing of a polar bear, when female, has counted as two tags. This has left some communities with no more tags to count on after a defence kill.
The new plan will also encourage communities to engage in polar bear deterrence, Shewchuk told Nunatsiaq News.
But he has previously said that aggressive polar bears are harmful to Inuit culture and lifestyle, because of damage to cabins, bird colonies and seal populations.
Those at the meeting in Cambridge Bay welcomed news of the change in the polar bear management plan.
They were also pleased to learn that the Kitikmeot region will have five more tags for grizzly bears. A large grizzly bear was seen, and later shot, after roaming around an area close to Mount Pelly where there are many cabins.
Elsewhere, the reaction to the new polar management plan could be mixed.
The committee, known as COSEWIC, once again assessed polar bears as a “special concern.” That means the species may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
Fort Nelson resident Linda Mould wants to see the B.C. Conservation Officer Service take action because of a grizzly bear that’s been spotted over the past few weeks.
She’s not the only one either. Social media in the northern Interior community has been abuzz with bear sightings and conservation officer Jeff Clancy said he’s been getting upwards of three phone calls a day about it.
“Right now, it’s just sightings. There’s no conflict involved that we’ve been made aware of,” he said.
However, Mould, 66, who has lived in the area for more than 60 years, said bears are not common in the community and she is worried about the danger the grizzly poses to children.
“There are numerous people that have their children in school that they are not allowing them to stand outside to take the bus,” said the grandmother of nine.
“They’re severely limited as to what they’re able to do outside right now, because the parents are afraid of this grizzly bear that’s lurking on the outskirts. So, if something’s not done, which I’m quite confident nothing will be done, these kids are basically being held hostage prior to winter even starting.”
People in the area have been talking about bear sightings since the end of August. Mould believes that if a grizzly bear was wandering in a larger city like Vancouver, it would have been removed by now.
“Grizzly bears are not normal to Fort Nelson and all we’re doing is just keeping an eye on them,” she said.
“I just really wish that the COs would take us a little bit more seriously and understand and appreciate that our fear is honest. Just because we have not been educated in the way of the bear does not mean that we don’t have respect for them and are afraid of them,” she added.
Monitoring the situation, says conservation officer
Clancy has seen the bear and describes it as a 300 pound, three-year-old grizzly with a brown coat and silver tips on its back.
Up until now, the bear has mostly been seen on large rural properties on the outskirts of the community, chowing down on fruit and grass, he said.
When Clancy saw the bear and approached, he said it took off.
He added that for those who are concerned it is just him monitoring a large area of northern B.C. as a conservation officer, RCMP officers in the area are also trained to respond if there is an incident with the bear.
However, they have no plans to put it down.
“A unique sighting of a grizzly bear hanging around some rural properties is not enough to euthanize a bear. And I am pretty sure the majority of the public in British Columbia would agree with me on that,” said Clancy.
“It’s just unfortunate that he’s kind of found a nice comfy home next to some residences close to Fort Nelson.”
Roaming grizzly bear not a threat to Fort Nelson residents, CO says
A 300-pound grizzly bear has been seen wandering around a rural Fort Nelson neighbourhood for nearly a month, eating apples and lawn cuttings. The local conservation officer says it’s not a threat, but not everyone feels safe. 10:08