Wildlife harvesting in B.C., hunting for short, is managed on a four-tiered priority system. B.C.’s Wildlife Branch has the responsibility to determine which species are available for hunting and how many individuals of that species may be harvested.
Before hunting is allowed the conservation of species comes first, meaning that a species must have sufficient population to ensure that hunting will not diminish or jeopardize its ability to sustain themselves.
Second priority is the constitutionally protected rights for First Nations to hunt for sustenance, traditional, or cultural purposes. Third is B.C. resident licensed hunters and the fourth is for non-resident licensed hunters.
First Nations refers to an indigenous person who has the statutory right to hunt in B.C. Licensed resident refers to a person who resides in B.C. and is required by law to purchase a hunting licence. A non-resident refers to someone who lives outside of B.C., either within Canada or abroad and is also required to purchase a licence.
An indigenous person’s statutory hunting (and fishing) rights are limited to within their respective First Nation's traditional territory. An indigenous person who hunts outside of their traditional territory must do so in accordance with the B.C. Hunting Regulations. An individual’s right to hunt or fish within their traditional territory may be limited by Band Council Resolutions.
A non-indigenous person’s ability to hunt is deemed a privilege and not a right.
A B.C. resident’s hunt is limited to open seasons and bag limits as determined and published by the B.C. Hunting Regulations. Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) is instituted when the Wildlife Branch has concerns about the number of animals that may be harvested in a geographic area. One must apply for a LEH permit which are then issued by random draw.
A bit more complicated for non-B.C. residents licensed hunters. They may do so if they use the services of a registered B.C. guide outfitter within their concession, or under specified conditions with a B.C. resident who holds a valid hunting license and a permit issued by the B.C. Wildlife Branch.
As none of this is intended by be construed as legal advice, please read the B.C. Hunting and Trapping Regulations to ensure you are abiding by the law. They do change from year to year and parts are complicated.
That is the easy part – who gets to hunt and how it is regulated.
The determination of how many animals of each species are allocated to each of the three classes of B.C. hunters, indigenous, resident, or non-resident, is much more complex.
The most heavily regulated class of hunters are non-residents who require the use of a guide outfitter. Harvest numbers are limited by government-imposed quotas for most species.
In theory, non-resident quotas are only available after those of indigenous peoples and residents have first been met. A guide outfitter cannot take more of a species once their assigned quota is fulfilled. Of the three classes, this group of hunters harvests the fewest number of animals, and in my opinion, are also the best managed, with one exception, that being the government's oversight and management of anti-hunting groups and individuals who have purchased guide outfitting concessions for the purpose of not hunting.
Non-resident hunting quotas are not without controversy.
Some B.C. organizations and resident hunters do not believe that non-residents should have any right to hunt in B.C. unless all indigenous and resident hunters are first satisfied.
I view this a bit differently, as many B.C. hunters travel outside our province to hunt, and if every jurisdiction viewed this the same, there would be no travel.
Second, non-resident hunting represents an economic opportunity that brings foreign dollars into B.C., like the export of other natural resources. It also provides employment in some of B.C.’s more remote and rural areas.
Most importantly, B.C.’s guide outfitters provide a valuable service in helping conserve B.C.’s wildlife. They have a vested economic interest in ensuring that we have viable and huntable populations, and advocate more vigorously in the defence of wildlife than any other group or organization. They and through their non-resident hunters and hunting organizations also contribute large numbers of dollars into B.C.’s wildlife management and conservation programs.
As a bonus, guide outfitters also cut and maintain more backcountry trails than any other organization in B.C., including government.
Resident hunters the next most regulated, but outside of LEH permits, are not assigned quotas.
Generally, B.C. regulates resident hunters by a combination of length of open season, class of animal that may be harvested (age, horn or antler size, sex, etc.), and by monitoring trends in historical data supplied via hunter harvest questionnaires. Periodic inventories and game counts help, but insufficient budgets limit their effective and/or timeliness.
The biggest concern resident hunters have with this process is the lack of resources and inability to commit to and conduct regular inventories to ensure a species has a sufficient population to both warrant hunting and defend its use.
Indigenous hunting is the least regulated of the three classes of B.C. hunters. I say this as a fact and not as an indictment. This is also where B.C. wildlife management is most complicated.
The inability to regulate is partly due to the lack of modern treaties with defined traditional territories, the number of recognized B.C. First Nations (198 plus numerous groups that represent themselves through traditional or hereditary governance structures), lack of involvement or agreements with the B.C. government in terms of wildlife management, and lack of funding and governance structures within their communities.
Some First Nations do enforce hunting regulations on their own memberships through BCRs, but many do not. Once a BCR is passed it can be legally enforced by the BC Conservation Officer Service.
Examples are West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations passing BCRs prohibiting caribou hunting by band members in the South Peace area due to conservation concerns. Another is the COs laying fishing out of season charges against indigenous individuals in the Williams Lake area after local First Nations passed BCRs that prohibited their members from fishing for salmon due to conservation concerns relating to the Big Bar landslide in the Fraser River.
Many of B.C.’s central interior First Nations have also joined with other organizations in the “Protect Mama Moose” campaigns trying to encourage their membership to harvest bull moose only and help rebuild the dwindling moose populations.
In 2018 the B.C. government launched the “Together for Wildlife” program. A big emphasis is to change the Government’s relationship with First Nations and indigenous peoples as it pertains to wildlife management.
Leave no doubt for those who are not following this process, First Nations will become more involved in all aspects of B.C. wildlife management.
Although government has not yet released what progress has been made with this initiative, one can expect it will bring big changes, and hopefully, result in vast improvements for B.C.’s dwindling fish, wildlife, and habitats.
A huge task and, like all things that mean change, much for everyone to think about. One can only hope that government keeps all B.C. residents involved and informed as these changes will affect us all.
Despite the many naysayers and those who believe to the contrary, I do suggest that we also look at B.C.’s long history with guides and outfitters as a valuable source of information on what constitutes good and effective management of this most valuable of public resources, our wildlife.
Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and is one of hundreds of thousands of hunters and fishers in B.C. He lives in Fort St. John.