The province’s stocks of fish and wildlife are being slowly depleted by decades of underfunding and mismanagement, says Jesse Zeman, spokesman for the B.C. Wildlife Federation.
On April 18, Zeman spoke to about 50 people at the Elks Hall in Fernie where he exhorted the crowd of mainly hunters and fishermen to pressure the provincial government into putting more money and research into wildlife conservation.
He began his presentation with some stark numbers.
In central B.C., moose populations have recently declined 50 to 70 per cent. Several central and southern caribou populations continue to decline, despite decades long hunting bans.
Fish are also in trouble. In 2015 and 2016, only about 40,000 Kootenay Lake kokanee returned to spawn, which is a fraction of former population figures that counted 500,000 to one million fish.
He blamed the stinginess of successive provincial governments, which have failed to invest in fish and wildlife conservation.
In the 1960s, B.C. was investing 0.60 per cent of its provincial budget on the Fish and Wildlife Branch but it now gets about 0.06 per cent, he said.
“What we see over time is we’re spending proportionally fewer dollars,” said Zeman.
Again and again, Zeman compared B.C. to nearby U.S. states where far more resources are spent on conservation efforts.
In terms of funding per capita, Zeman said that B.C. comes in at about $7 per person compared to Idaho which has $65, Oregon, which has $55 and Montana, which has $69. Across the continental divide in Alberta, the funding per capita is about $9.
“That’s an order of magnitude difference,” said Zeman. “And keep in mind that these places don’t have all these species that we have in British Columbia.”
Because of increasing pressures on the backcountry, the complexity of forest management has increased exponentially since the mid 1980s, he said, and more funding is needed to conduct long-term monitoring of wildlife populations to gauge their total abundance.
Without that data, it is hard to make sound conservation decisions and B.C. has little data, said Zeman.
Idaho typically has 400 mule deer and 360 elk collared every year to monitor population trajectory and conduct research in addition to their aerial inventory work. Having collars on fawns and calves allows the American agencies to get an idea of habitat selection, survival and population trends.
Between moose, Rocky Mountain elk, Roosevelt elk, and mule deer it is unlikely B.C. has more than 500 collars across those four species in the entire province. Very few of those collars are on juvenile animals and a significant portion of the collars were paid for by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and B.C. Wildlife Federation fish and game clubs, he said.
Zeman asked the assembled outdoorsmen and women to sign an on-line petition calling for all hunting license revenues to be directed back to managing wildlife. He also called on private natural resource industries to contribute funds for conservation.
He said the government should use scientific research to create legislated objectives for fish and wildlife populations, as it does not yet do that.
He then asked for non-partisan comments from the crowd, though some audience members did not comply.
“[Kootenay East MLA] Bill Bennett’s from here,” said audience member Craig Little. “He’s been great for jobs in the Elk Valley. He’s been great for highways. He’s done [nothing] for wildlife but every time he opens his mouth he tells you he’s a hunter and that his family has hunted for 25 years.”
“I’ve been hunting for over 50 years here and the population is definitely declining,” said local hunter Mario Rocca. “Both governments have had a kick at the can and we’re still lagging behind.”
With the election looming, the issue was discussed at an all-candidates forum at the Fernie Curling Rink on April 19. All four provincial party candidates agreed that provincial conservation funding needed to be increased including Yvonne Prest of the BC Green Party who said the environment, was “the only thing that matters. Without the environment we can have no industry. It is the pinnacle beacon from which everything else trickles down.”