Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Proposals for stopping the Canadian Buffalo Extinction, 1876.

By 1876, the destruction of the buffalo in the Dominion of Canada's Northwest Territories had become an acute problem.  Lieutenant Governor David Laird, wrote a memorandum in that year which summarized the advice from those with experience on the Canadian plains.  Their responses reveal not only early ideas surrounding conservation and game management, but also the government's hopes to balance these actions with policies providing subsistence for indigenous peoples.[RG10, Volume 2641]

The problem, as laid out by Laird was stated thus:
The threatened early extinction of the Buffalo is a question of grave importance to the North West Territories of the Dominion.  The flesh of that animal forms the principal means of subsistence of several of the Indian tribes, as well as a large number of the Half-breeds.  The traffic in Buffalo peltries likewise enters largely into the trade of the country, and enables the natives to procure many of the necessaries of life. (RG10, Volume 3641, File 7530)
Date(s)July 19, 1862 Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.37R

Laird notes that the "whites" and metis, "at times indulge[d] in a wanton slaughter of whole herds killing cows and calves indiscriminately...", and using very little of the animal.  The first suggestion to end these killings was forwarded by Colonel French, commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.  He suggested: a double export duty on cow and calf robes; a duty on pemmican; a closed hunting season during calving times; and severe punishments for those that used less than half the meat of the animal.

Father Alexis Andr√©, O.M.I.  Online (1)
Date(s)1885PlaceDuck Lake, Sask.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-028538
Father Andre, at the metis settlement of St Laurent, near Fort Carleton, went further with his suggestions of restriction of hunting season for "whites and Metis", suggesting an open season from June to October.  He went so far as to hope to restrict them from staying on the prairies during the winter, while allowing the "Indians" to remain hunting on the plains.  He also sought a heavy tax on the skins of cows killed during the winter.

The committee of the North West Council suggested a closed season from January to the end of May, as well as the outlaw of "pound[s], or similar contrivance [in] the capture of Buffalo."  They also wished to restrict the hunt to animals over two years old.

Ultimately, the Dominion government, then under the Liberal guidance of Alexander Mackenzie, refused to create any export duties, as these were inherently "objectionable", and would not stop "wanton destruction" anyway.  The government subcommittee simply pointed to the authority of the North West Council over, "game and wild animals and the care and protection thereof", and delegated the duties to that territorial body.  These efforts of consultation were too little, too late, and the buffalo herds in the following years were effectively decimated.

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