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Evan Saugstad: Wildlife management in B.C. - Politics rule

Part 2 in a series


In the spring of 2018, B.C.’s NDP government announced it would ban the hunting of grizzly bears, except by indigenous peoples. Government freely admitted this ban was pure politics and supported by their public opinion polls.

There was no science behind their decision. It was not implemented for conservation reasons. Just like their promise to give B.C. residents $500 during the 2020 election, my opinion is this ban was implemented to buy votes.

I have written several columns in the Alaska Highway News as to what this means and why it happened.

Last year, this same government signed and implemented an agreement with two First Nations in B.C.’s South Peace respecting local caribou populations and placing limiting on the use of Crown lands by others. This despite no meaningful consultation or agreement with many other First Nations, communities, organizations, or local business, and industry.

I also wrote on this secretive and political process, and some of the potential outcomes.

Last spring, this same government also announced it would begin culling moose, including cows and calves, as one of its centre pieces to save the caribou. Interestingly, they did find some of their internal biologists in full support of this decision, which was much to the chagrin of most reputable biologists and left B.C. residents shaking their heads trying to understand why.

One decision this government did not make for political expediency was to end the wolf reduction programs the previous government implemented in respect to caribou conservation. This despite extensive lobbying by their most favoured ENGO organizations and a few thousand letters to editors.

What saved this program was not that the biologist or hunting community supported it, but was directly attributable to the widespread support of first nations.

Interestingly, since the initial furor over the cow and calf moose cull, many first nations have stated their opposition to these cow/calf seasons, at least until local moose population can sustain such a hunt. It remains to be seen if the 2021 hunting regulations quietly drop this or if the ignorance of those who oversee managing our wildlife takes precedence.

Moose in the South Peace. - Evan Saugstad

Although it can be said that everything boils down to politics and is subject to voter sentiment, it shouldn't be. Not everything should be left to public opinion polls, or to the belief that unless it is good for voters in Metro Vancouver, it is not good for B.C.

Wildlife and habitat management used to be in the control of local and regional managers. Part of their job used to be to meaningfully consult with those who lived and worked here. Local managers would develop a good understanding on what was happening and understood that local people wished to sustain their way of life.

They consulted and listened to rod and gun clubs, local guide/outfitters, trappers, first nations, local communities, and industries that could be affected by their decisions.

Local managers would take input and, as the statutory decision maker, make decisions in terms of hunting seasons, quotas, harvest levels, closures, or restrictions relatively free from political interference from Victoria. Most of these decisions focused on the consumptive uses (hunting, fishing, trapping), as the belief was if you responsibly managed what you took from the environment, your populations and habitats would be sustained by what you retained.

This began to change when the non-consumptive users realized their best way to implement the changes they wished for (i.e., stop hunting, trapping, fishing, etc.) was to engage politicians in Victoria. Some of our more naive politicians agreed, as this represented voters in their ridings and began to support taking away of decision-making powers from regions and centralizing them with the responsible Minister.

Once Ministers exerted this power, their field staff fell in line and just agreed with what the Minister wanted, as that is how government works. Tell the Minister they are wrong gets you a ticket out of town, so just agree, shut up, and keep your head down.

Now, we must reverse this process and give more staff, budget, and responsibility back to the regions, and begin making local decisions that are best for the diversity we have across our province.

What may be good for northeast B.C. may not be the best solution for the Chilcotin or the Kootenays, and vice versa.

A whitetail deer in the South Peace. - Evan Saugstad

By bringing these decisions making powers back to where they belong, we will also begin to address the many outstanding concerns we have about there not being enough steelhead, salmon, mule deer, mountain goats, or moose, or about there being too many wolves, and black and grizzly bears.

Let us determine the requirements for our respective areas: what to do with the lack of orcas in the Georgia Straight, spotted owls in the Fraser Canyon, or marmots on Vancouver Island. 

There is hope.

Last fall, the NDP made an election promise to create a "Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition.” Within this plan was the commitment to:

“In the first 100 days of the new government’s mandate it will:

"1. Introduce legislation to create a Fish, Wildlife and Habitat endowment.

"2. Dedicate all hunting, guide-outfitting and trapping license fees to wildlife management.”

Those 100 days are now ending, so we'll see what is done, as it is a start.

But much more is needed.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and is one of hundreds of thousands of B.C.’s hunters and fishers. He lives in Fort St. John.

Read more:

Wildlife management in B.C., Part 1 - Who cares?

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