WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. - A First Nations chief is calling on the British Columbia government to halt the moose hunt this year, arguing the historic wildfire season has caused enough trauma to the species.
Tl'etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said the flames that have charred thousands of square kilometres of habitat in the province's Interior and hunting will only further endanger the moose population.
"Anyone who chooses to point a gun to a moose in the Chilcotin is contributing to the eventual problem of having no moose in the Chilcotin down the road," he said.
The largest fire ever recorded in the province's history at more than 5,210 square kilometres in size is still burning across the Chilcotin plateau, an area about 60 kilometres northwest of Williams Lake.
The province as a whole has seen a record-breaking 11,700 square kilometres scorched since April 1 and more than 150 fires continue to burn.
Alphonse said local crews had discovered two dead moose floating in a lake in an area that had been charred by fire.
But the province's forests ministry said in a statement that there remains "only a handful of reports" of wildlife killed, including one black bear, some wild horses in the Chilcotin and a couple of moose in the Cariboo region.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said in an interview that none of the 40 radio collared cow moose in the region were killed due to fires, but determining the extent of the wildlife devastation is imperative.
"We've already instituted some tools over concerns of moose populations and we're working closely with the Tsilqot'in national government to estimate and get a better handle and assessment of the impact that occurred because of these fires on wildlife," he said.
The provincial government issued 2,423 limited entry hunt permits for moose this year, which the forest ministry said is a reduction from previous years.
The forests ministry said roughly 60 per cent of moose hunting licences issued in the Cariboo region, which includes the Chilcotin, are set aside for First Nations, with the remaining number allocated to other resident hunters and guide outfitters.
"It is important to note that not all licensed hunters are successful, and while harvest rates vary year-to-year, on average, only one-third of (limited entry hunt) authorizations are successful," the ministry said.
It added that no licensed moose hunting was issued in September in areas most affected by wildfire, and many areas of the Cariboo region west of the Fraser River were already closed off as of 2016.
Many Crown land areas throughout the province also remain restricted to the public as fire crews continue their response and mop-up.
"If these restrictions are lifted before the end of the fall hunting season, wildlife biologists will reassess the situation to ensure the appropriate regulations are in place to protect wildlife," the ministry said.
But Alphonse said he's concerned about policing these restrictions, adding that First Nations are still fighting fires and don't have the resources to closely monitor any illegal hunting activity on their territory.
Alphonse confirmed that he has been working with provincial officials. He said he wants First Nations closely involved in any wildlife studies going forward and for the province to commit to conservation efforts.
"Why do we keep doing the same thing over and over and over again when all we see around us is animals going extinct?" he said. "Somebody has got to step up to the plate and take some leadership and try something different for a change and hopefully this government will be that change."
—Follow @Givetash on Twitter.