Commercial huckleberry harvest draws concern for wildlife

Wildsight is concerned about the commercial harvesting of wild huckleberries in the East Kootenay area, something new that hasn’t occurred before.

In a press release from the environmental group, it is stated that roughly 30 harvesters are working in the Yahk area, picking hundreds of pounds of berries per day, while crews in the Bountiful area are removing entire huckleberry bush branches to pick the berries off at home.

There is no regulation governing commercial harvesting in general, although an investigation into the removal of plants under 46 of the Forest and Range Practices Act has begun, according to the press release.

The release goes on to say that thousands of pounds of huckleberries per day are crossing the border at Kingsgate, with roughly half that quantity coming from the Yahk camp, according to Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources staff.

Wildsight believes the harvesters plan to follow the berry crop in the East Kootenay until the first frost, clearing out entire areas, and leaving few berries for bears or people picking for their own use.

The chief concern is the health of the grizzly population in the area, which relies on huckleberries. The Yahk grizzly population is listed as threatened.

“With grizzlies eating well over a thousand pounds of berries per year to fatten up for their winter hibernation,” said John Bergenske, Wildsight Conservation Director. “We’re worried that some bears might struggle to find enough berries in their territories because of the scale of the commercial harvest.”

“This commercial harvest is not respectful to the spirit of the berries and not respectful to the other animals who could be eating the berries,” says Bonnie Harvey of the Ktunaxa Nation, who saw a large bin of culled berries rotting in the sun at the Yahk camp.

“If we respect the spirit of the berry, it will be able to feed people, feed the bears, and feed all living things,” says Harvey, “but if we disrespect the berry, it won’t provide in future years.”

“Picking your own huckleberries is a long-standing part of our culture, balanced with people and other animals on the land, but large-scale commercial harvest threatens to throw the system out of balance,” said Bergenske. “We need to stop or at the very least regulate commercial harvest of wild foods to make sure there is enough for everyone. Just as hunters cannot sell wild meat, people should not be harvesting unlimited quantities for sale.”

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