A Letter To British Columbians: A Most Exciting Time

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Everyone who enjoys time in the wild British Columbian outdoors and is both concerned for its health and willing to help it prosper belongs to the same group — conservationists. When disagreements happen, they are always from the foundation of a common value: we all want this province and its ecosystems to thrive. With few places equaling its beauty and vastness of terrain inhabited by iconic wild animals, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to find compromise when facing disagreements, and to setup a proper framework to sustain these natural wonders. Since 2018 and until 2020, the BC Ministry is engaging stakeholders and the public to develop a “new and improved wildlife management and habitat conservation strategy.” Right now we have the opportunity to correct past shortcomings and make British Columbia the global example in managing healthy wildlife populations in flourishing and varied environments. This is an exciting time.

First, The Extended Family

Any large group of people will have divergences in values. We, as a broad group of conservationists, are no different. But whether a person plants trees or cuts them down; catches their quota in salmon or advocates for closures; has ancestral roots dating back millennia or more recently arrived; there are no villains in this story. If we take the goal of prosperity to our shared lands as foundational, we can help ground ourselves to listen calmly and find our way. We are all in this together.

Family Feud

From a long list of disagreements, I want to look at a specific one with the intent that anytime a genuine attempt to understand someone else’s perspective is made, communication is increased, and we as a group get stronger. There are those who believe sustainable and regulated hunting is beneficial to BC’s ecosystems, and there are those who disagree.

Through The Eyes Of A Hunter

9 out of 10 hours spent in the woods a hunter is just another hiker. The majority of the time is passed walking and camping. The average hunt is not successful and a typical deer hunt requires 10 days to harvest an animal. To consider that effort is to appreciate there may be something to hunting more than just the death of an animal. The most challenging aspect for hunters to convey to those who do not is the connection and respect a hunter has towards the animals, and lands that hold them. Hunting is a craft. It’s a dedication to understanding wildlife and their habitat, and the techniques to pursue them taught by those that came before. And for most, when occasionally successful, it’s sustainable, wild, organic meat, ethically pursued and shared with good people. It’s these elements that drive a feeling of communion with nature, an appreciation for the land, and efforts to conserve them.

Farmers & Hunters

A farmer plans for good harvest not just with the coming fall in mind but for future years. Crops are rotated, fertilizers selected, soil and water health managed to keep lands producing. Farmers and hunters share a long term perspective. Harvesting wild animals in BC is only legal when it’s regulated by laws informed from wildlife biologists to keep it sustainable. It requires a license valid only for a specific season, animal, age, and sex, and where all attempts are made for the death of the animal to be quick and ethical. For every license and tag purchased a portion goes to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation,

to restore, enhance, and expand critically important habitat for fish and wildlife, and to inspire the next generation of conservationists through experiential education programs.

An Example Of Example Setters

Consider one of the many hands-on, wallets-open conservationist groups with volunteers comprised mainly of hunters. The Wild Sheep Society of BC and The Wild Sheep Federation, set out to increase the health of a species threatened from resource extraction, habitat loss, and disease. Since inception, raised funds of over $115 million have been put to use transplanting more than 20,000 animals, improving habitat, and documenting populations. Their efforts tell of a wildlife recovery success story, though more work is needed. Other hunter-conservationist groups like Ducks UnlimitedBCWFRocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Safari Club International have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for wildlife management and habitat restoration. The cumulative effort is gargantuan.

Science & Values

The weight-of-evidence substantiates, “the benefits of sport hunting can outweigh any disadvantage if responsibly managed and monitored.” (1) The health and habitat of wildlife can be improved from conservation programs funded by hunters, and by incentivizing that group of people to safeguard their passion. It may even be the case that properly structured high-priced hunting can improve the viability of certain endangered animals, sustain communities, and turn poachers into protectorates. But even though a given species can be sustainably hunted, and that hunting can be beneficial for both an animal population and a community of people, it does not mean it necessarily gets approved by society.

Contentious Cases

Criss-crossing our province are numerous resource roads from the logging, mining, and oil & gas industries. Wolves take advantage of these roads to chase down prey more effectively than a balanced ecosystem would allow. The result is that certain caribou herds, already severely threatened from habitat loss, are facing extirpation. A 2019 study concludes that, given the unbalance, culling wolves is a necessary practice if we want to prevent some dwindling herds from vanishing for good (like the woodland caribou, extirpated from the United States in March 2018). This extraordinary management practice may be necessary until traditional habitat is restored. However, the killing of iconic animals, be they wolf, bear, or cougar, even if it is informed by impartial research, regulated, and all attempts are made for an ethical kill, tends to cause public outcry. Our effective management of wildlife and habitat will come with hard choices. It’s important that a value even more fundamental to us as a group of people wanting prosperity for our lands is a commitment to calm, informed dialogue, with genuine attempts to understand each other, and a goal of compromise.

Back To The Big Picture

BC is the most diverse and biologically rich jurisdiction in North America yet invests a paltry amount for keeping it so. Idaho, with less than 1/4 of the land and 1/3 the population of BC, invests approximately $488 per square km into wildlife management — putting the $36 we spend into perspective. The U.S. wildlife management model generates funding from fees on outdoor gear totaling $1 billion dollars annually. It’s a user-pay model that works, that we lack, but can implement.

Our Greatest Investment

In 2017, the BC tourism industry generated $18.4 billion in revenue — an 8.4% increase over 2016. It contributed more to GDP than mining, oil & gas, or forestry & logging. Our unique environment draws crowds. Those crowds pay salaries. Those crowds are growing. It’s our privilege to be able to share it. No further argument is needed for what is self-evident: our great outdoors is our primary resource, our greatest investment, and needs to be properly cared for— if it is not flourishing neither are we.

Under Pressure: All is not well in our ecosystems

  • BC is endowed with the highest number of species of any province or territory in Canada. Yet 43% are on watchlists because of low or dwindling populations.

  • 1,807 species of animals and plants in BC are at risk of extinction. Yet BC is still one of the only provinces without legislation dedicated to protecting and recovering species at risk.

  • The #1 threat to wildlife and habitat is the loss of that habitat. Yet the current rate of logging old-growth forests on Vancouver Island alone is about thirty-four soccer fields per day, and 80% of old-growth has already been logged.

  • It is law in B.C. that protecting wildlife or habitat cannot be done in a way that unduly impacts timber supply. There is no legislation that says timber extraction must not unduly impact wildlife populations.

  • There is a severe funding shortage to properly manage our ecosystems. Under-funding leaves us clueless about wildlife populations, the state of their habitat, and how to improve them.

  • Dr. Kyle Artelle and others find the “Hallmarks of science often missing in N.A. wildlife management.”

This Rare Opportunity

The open and collaborative four-phase engagement process to develop a new and improved conservation strategy is underway. The BC Ministry is engaging indigenous peoples, rural communities, wildlife organizations, natural resource industry stakeholders, wildlife biologists, and the public. A few initiatives from dozens proposed to rehabilitate, manage, and enhance our ecosystems:

  • Centralize resources and responsibilities to protect and manage wildlife and habitat under one department.

  • Set consistent objectives for wildlife management and incorporate conservation provisions in natural resource legislation.

  • Create an effective funding model for wildlife and habitat conservation with independent oversight. Potential sources include resource sectors, tourism, outdoor and related equipment, 100% of hunting tag and licence fees.

  • Increase involvement and funding of the scientific community as primary method to improve habitat and wildlife.

  • Closely monitor the effect of resource industries on wildlife. Increase environmental standards for extraction companies and stop allowing industry to self-regulate.

Conclusion

Whether it’s a short walk after work, a weekend ski, or a multi-day mountain top hunt, the reward is the same: time spent in some of the world’s most spectacular beauty. Right now our government is listening. We have the opportunity to make our province a world leader in wildlife management with abundant animal populations in flourishing environments. We ought to be leaders in this field. Let’s be caretakers and guardians. Let’s start with open conversations from shared values, listen genuinely, and when we diverge from our fundamental sameness, calmly search for compromise. We can make this place thrive for future generations by getting that framework right today. We can build something good here. This is an exciting time.


How to get involved: Have a look at what is being proposed here. Educate yourself and talk it over with others. Find your MLA by inputting your postal code here. Make your voice heard.

*For every comment or email, whether negative or positive, I’m donating 10$ to Nature Trust of BC.

**For further knowledge, I recommend reading this short response by the BC Wildlife Federation, and select interviews of conservationists at The Journal of Mountain Hunting and The Rookie Hunter, with Mark Hall, Jesse Zeman, Gray Thornton, Chris Barker, Shane Mahoney, and Dr. Adam Ford. All were influential to this research and I’d like to thank them for their efforts.

Tom Stewart