Dennis Day was all ready to protest a Mi’kmaq moose hunt that Parks Canada approved for Monday on North Mountain in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, but there was nothing to protest.
Day, a resident of nearby Cape North, set up camp along the Cabot Trail just outside the park on Sunday night, but Mi’kmaq hunters and Parks Canada officials were still putting things in place Monday and were not expected to start hunting until Tuesday at the earliest.
“I’m not even going up on the mountain,” Day said Monday morning inside his roadside hut, which is equipped with a wood stove inside and a porta-potty next to it.
“I’m staying right here.”
Day said he intends to peacefully protest Parks Canada’s plan to cull up to 90 per cent of the moose population in a 20-square-kilometre area on North Mountain.
Parks Canada has said moose are hyper-abundant throughout the park, with the population density about four times what it should be for a healthy forest.
Officials say there are about 1,800 moose in the 950-square-kilometre park, and they are turning the forest into grassland with their voracious appetite for young trees.
Parks Canada plans to kill about 35 to 40 moose on North Mountain to see whether the forest will regenerate, and has given Mi’kmaq the exclusive right to hunt the animals under a 2012 agreement.
The hunt is scheduled to last 10 days, but public notices indicate it could be extended up to Dec. 18.
Day and other hunters and guides say the moose population on North Mountain is not as high as Parks Canada estimates, due to severe weather and snow conditions last winter.
“If they had have done the cull two years ago, I’d agree with it,” said Day. “But not now.”
Day and others described a somewhat tense mood in the area over the weekend, with Mi’kmaq and non-aboriginal hunters trading threats online.
However, Const. Mark Skinner of Nova Scotia RCMP said no complaints had been laid by Monday morning and police were not investigating any threats.
Day said he didn’t complain to police, because he didn’t take an online threat he received seriously.
And, he said, he has no intention of disrupting the hunt.
“We just want to get our word across,” he said. “I can’t stress enough that this isn’t against the aboriginals. This is against the park.”
RCMP and Parks Canada enforcement officers spent Monday morning meeting with Day and local citizens to keep things calm.
No one from the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, which is managing the moose hunt, was available for an interview Monday.
A communications officer said hunters never intended to start Monday. Instead, they were busy setting up camp.
Over the weekend and on Monday, Parks Canada officials posted small notices in Cape North and on signs along the Cabot Trail declaring a section of North Mountain a restricted area due to the hunt.
The notices say no one can stop in the restricted zone, but traffic will be allowed through.
Parks employees also installed larger roadside signs warning the public about the restricted area by early Monday afternoon.
Eric Zscheile, a negotiator with the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, said the 2012 agreement with Parks Canada was struck to ensure any wildlife cull in national parks is done using proper, traditional methods that respect the land and animals.
He said Mi’kmaq have the right to hunt anywhere in Nova Scotia, including inside parks, but they would rather work with federal and provincial governments than get into a confrontation and have to work through the courts.
And about two years before the 2012 agreement was signed, Zscheile said, the Mi’kmaq established a set of responsible hunting guidelines to ensure traditions, safety and respect are maintained during a hunt.
“The Mi’kmaq understand that part of having rights to harvest wildlife means that you have responsibilities when it comes to the conservation and the health of the resource,” he said.