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Dead animals final straw for Shuswap band in mushroom conflict

‘Does and fawns and bears being shot for no particular reason is quite disheartening’

The killing of wildlife on Skwlāx te Secwepemcúlecw band land has forced Kukpi7 (Chief) James Tomma’s hand in keeping unauthorized mushroom pickers out of the already fragile area.

The 2023 Bush Creek East wildfire resulted in an influx of morel mushrooms this spring. The band said the valuable fungi have attracted “hundreds” of pickers who don’t always respect the still recovering land.

Tomma explained the band has been having problems with trespassers leaving garbage behind, having fires, setting up permanent camps and cutting trees. Slain wildlife, however, was the final straw.

“We’re getting people that feel that they’re entitled and have a right to be there, but with that, they’re not doing their due diligence or responsibilities… and sadly we’re seeing some animals being killed,” he said. “Whether that’s mushroom pickers or not, the fact is when we find dead does and fawns and bears being shot for no particular reason is quite disheartening.”

Tomma said photos have been submitted to BC Conservation, but until someone is actually caught in the act, they can’t know who’s responsible. The band’s Territorial Resource Stewardship (TRS) department confirmed that in addition to a dead deer they’d found, two bears had also been killed and “there was two people bragging about doing it to buyers” on the may long weekend.

Tomma said the band will now be putting up a gate on Scotch Creek Forest Service Road to block public access, which he expected to be in place a day or two after talking to the Observer on May 29, with a permit system to be implemented the following week.

In early May, the band had requested assistance from the province, but that has been “limited.” Tomma has been speaking with Assistant Deputy Minister Jamie Jeffreys, adding “she’s actually in my chambers now talking to some of my Guardians [of the Land].”

Skwlāx is not only working to keep people out because of the disrespect being shown, but also environmental protection as the area, Tomma said, is still in a state of emergency and more vulnerable since the fires.

“It’s something that we and the rest of the public have to understand and do to help Mother Nature recover,” he said, adding that the things being done are “just not conducive to recovery.”

There is also the concern of safety, not only for band members that have been threatened with violence, but also the pickers themselves, with one having had to be rescued by the RCMP and search and rescue after getting lost near Adams Lake.

“Some of these people, these weekend warriors… go in there just totally unprepared. And there’s been a few situations where people had to be helped out by some of the locals because they’re just not equipped or understand the danger that is posed out there…” Tomma pointed out. “They not only put themselves in danger, but also the kind people that end up helping them if something happens to them. And they take away resources that should be put to use in better places.”

He added that while the threat against his band members hasn’t yet escalated to actual violence, “the potential for it is always there.”

“So there’s a lot of reasons behind me putting a gate up, and if I don’t get the help from the province… I have no choice but to lock it. I just hope that all the locals are understanding that what we’re doing here is to protest of to have a confrontation, it’s all for the protection of the land, because as First Nations people, we’re the original stewards of the land and we’re going to exercise that now.”

Read more: Threats against Skwlāx members escalate Shuswap mushroom conflict

Read more: Skwlāx band in Shuswap takes first step home in wildfire recovery

About the Author: Heather Black

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