A plan to form a new, independent wildlife management agency in B.C., which would relieve the provincial government from managing contentious wildlife issues such as grizzly, wolf and caribou populations, is generating anxiety among some conservation groups who fear the structure of the new program could prioritize the interests of hunters over wildlife.
The proposal for the new agency, first announced in March, was scant on details, but Steve Thomson, then minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, set a fall start-up date and set aside $200,000 for consultations with conservation and hunting groups.
“Government is afraid to manage wolves, for example, or afraid to manage grizzly bears in some cases because of the politics of that,” then energy and mines minister Bill Bennett, an avid hunter and supporter of the controversial grizzly bear trophy hunt, told an East Kootenay radio station.
“Hopefully an agency that is separate from government can make decisions that are in the best long-term interest of wildlife and just forget about the politics and do what is best for the animals,” Bennett said.
According to Thomson, the agency would receive an initial government investment of $5 million and be further funded by hunting licence revenues to the tune of $9 to $10 million annually — money which currently goes into general revenue.
The plan was welcomed by hunters as a way to increase funding for cash-strapped conservation and management programs
The NDP previously tabled a bill calling for dedicated conservation funding, so, in the flurry of pre-election announcements, the plan didn’t get much attention, even though Thomson was flanked by representatives of pro-hunting groups as he made the announcement.
Then, days before the election, five of B.C.’s pro-hunting and trapping organizations — B.C. Wildlife Federation, Guide Outfitters Association of B.C, Wild Sheep Society of B.C, Wildlife Stewardship Council and the B.C. Trappers Association — announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding to work together.
“The collaborative efforts of our five organizations will help ensure the province follows through on its commitment to enhance wildlife management,” Jim Glaicair, president of the 50,000-member B.C. Wildlife Federation, said in a news release.
The organizations emphasized that the MOU was sparked by concern about the ongoing decline of wildlife.
“This is a great opportunity for our organizations to work together for the betterment of wildlife in the province,” said Michael Schneider, Guide Outfitters Association of B.C president.
Hunter-Funded Wildlife Management 'Huge Step Backwards'
But to other groups and especially those waiting to see whether the new government will stop the grizzly hunt, the MOU appeared to indicate a pro-hunting team lining up to take over the new agency.
Alan Burger, president of B.C. Nature, which represents 53 clubs, with a total of more than 6,000 members, said in an interview that it is a major concern that the only people rooting for the new agency appear to be hunters and trappers.
“If they can dominate an agency like this it is going to be a huge step backwards,” Burger told DeSmog Canada.
“The last thing we need is greater emphasis on big game. We need to focus our attention on the ecosystem,” he said, questioning how the proposal could get so far without consultation.
“Hunting and fishing licences are an important source of revenue and B.C. Nature agrees that there should be a greater share contributed to wildlife management,” Burger said.
“But there is much greater input to the B.C. economy from the non-consumptive users of wildlife — the tourism and wildlife watching industry, people selling binoculars, camera gear, field guides, outdoor gear and, most importantly, the vast majority of British Columbians that spend money travelling and camping to simply enjoy seeing animals alive in the wild,” he said.
Valhalla Wilderness Society has come out swinging against the proposed agency, calling it a thinly disguised attempt by the B.C. government to privatize wildlife management and hand over responsibility to hunters, trappers and guide outfitters.
Funding for wildlife management should not be contingent on hunting licence revenue or special interest groups, a news release from Valhalla says.
“Notwithstanding the poor job the B.C. government has been doing in growing wildlife, wildlife should be managed by government,” it says. “The above-mentioned special interest groups lack the technical expertise to make wildlife decisions based on scientific evidence and are even unwilling to apply the precautionary principle, which, in the face of climate change, is needed more than ever.”
B.C. Wildlife Conservation Funds Desperately Needed
One lesson from the growing controversy is that conservation groups need to work together and find out whether a new model could provide desperately needed funds for conservation, said Val Murray of Justice for B.C. Grizzlies.
“We need to see animals as individuals within communities rather than numbers within a natural resource group,” she said.
“We need a cross-discipline panel of conservation biologists and scientists to bridge the values of consumptive and non-consumptive residents. There is no shortage of good science — what we lack is proper funding to implement what we know, plus good listening skills to apply the ideas.”
Letters asking for more information and setting out objections to the proposal have been sent to all three party leaders, but, until the outcome of the election is clarified, none are willing to jump into the fray.
A spokeswoman for the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry said the previous government was looking at similar model to the agreement between the province and Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C where revenue from fishing licences goes into research, conservation and education programs.
The intention is to hold public consultations before decisions are made, she said.
Image: Steve Thomson, Former Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announcing the new wildlife agency proposal, March 22, 2017. Photo: B.C. Government via Flickr