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Evan Saugstad: Wildlife Management in B.C. – The elephant in our habitat

Part 8 in a series
Carbon Creek cutblocks.

saugstadMention industry and wildlife management in the same breath and, unless you're talking to yourself, differing opinions will soon follow.

Changes to our natural environment wrought by industry fit into one’s thoughts somewhere between “leave industry alone, we need the jobs”, to “shut ’em down, our environment is more important than their jobs.”

As in most instances where there are a wide range of opinions, reality is somewhere in between.

We can certainly acknowledge and agree that our resource-based industries do change our environment. We can also agree that these same industries do not always follow all the rules, either intentionally or inadvertently.

Despite this, it's time to stop blaming industry for our wildlife management woes and start blaming those responsible for our industries, our government, with the exception being for those who break the law.

Government makes the rules. Government can change the rules.

If industry is following the legislation and regulations that govern their actions, then it is the responsibility of government to correct laws that are not achieving the desired outcomes.

Rural B.C. needs our resource-based industrial jobs for our communities to survive; these same industries need healthy fish and wildlife populations with sufficient habitat to ensure that we continue to support their businesses; fish and wildlife relies on us all to get it right so they can not only continue to survive, but thrive.

Hard to know how to get our heads around just what this means, or entails, or how to get there. And as god knows, we have tried.

Successive governments have implemented all sorts of strategies to regulate and manage industry and their effects on the environment. But the piece that always seems to go missing is that our wildlife and their essential habitats do not seem to gather the same attention for funding, focus and attention.

The result is the mess we currently call fish and wildlife management in B.C.

History shows that when we do not place sufficient values on wildlife and their habitat, we quit caring. And when we quit caring governments will soon follow. When this happens, the result is predictable.

Our wildlife will disappear along with the need for their habitat that now no longer supports wildlife.

History also shows that a healthy economy and prosperous communities will sustain local fish and wildlife populations, but without that healthy economy communities will also disappear as the standard of living declines.

If anyone thinks there is one simple fix and if we just did that one thing then things would be better, is either naive or fooling themselves.

Balancing our economic needs with those of wildlife are complicated, and more complicated when polarizing views prevent us from having reasoned conversations to find solutions.

In B.C., we should have it all: A huge land base with a wide diversity of industries, habitats and wildlife species that all require their own unique, and sometimes very local, management strategies to survive.

Forestry, hard rock and placer mining, gas, oil, and other energy production, ranching and farming, commercial fishing, guide outfitting, and tourism-based sectors of all shapes and sizes shape our province.

And all, to one degree or another, effect our wildlife and their habitats.

Although all industries have some detrimental effects to wildlife and habitats, we tend to focus on forestry as they have a larger footprint than all other industries combined, when considered at the provincial scale. It's easy to single out industrial forestry as the biggest “culprit” when it comes to habitat alteration, degradation, or destruction. Each year they build thousands of kilometres of roads and harvest a couple hundred thousand hectares of forest.

Simply put, forestry is the largest modifier of our environment. With that in mind, it is quick and easy to say stop the logging until all the young forests grow up and then things will be better.

But better for what?

If forestry were to disappear tomorrow, along with the jobs and the economy it creates, so would the hundreds of thousands of kilometres of roads and bridges they operate and maintain, roads that we use to access our favourite hunting, fishing, camping, trekking, viewing, camping, and skiing spots. So would access to our many remote rural properties and businesses that rely on access in their daily lives, along with access for others such as grazing leases, mining claims, and wildfire.

Some will say great, put it back to what it was.

We could, but that would benefit very few. But, if that is truly what we wish for, we could also plan for the demise of much of our rural wealth as many communities would cease to exist, at least as we currently do.

As some know, and yet others refuse to admit, forestry does create new habitat and opportunities for wildlife. Just depends what species you focus on, as at the same time forest alterations can be detrimental to other species.

And that is our conundrum. What do we manage for? Do we give priority to one and not the other?

How should we manage our wildlife populations when they are impacted by forest operations? If forestry makes game birds and animals, furbearers, and fish more vulnerable to exploitation by people and predators, should we not change the rules for those who exploit them?

Normally, it is about at this point in the discussion that the hunting, fishing, and trapping communities begin to diverge in opinions, as our natural tendency is to push for others to make changes, and not one’s self interests.

What hunter wishes for seasons and bag limits to be restricted or closed? Same happens with fishers and trappers. Easier to say no more roads, no more cutblocks, just let me continue as I always have.

This mentality needs to change. We as hunters, trappers, and fishers can play a big part, and it begins with the acceptance that we are all partly to blame. Forestry with their roads and cutblocks made it easier for us, and our four-footed predators, to find our quarry, and now we face the reality that in some places, there is not much of our quarry left.

Next week, I begin a more in depth look at some of the issues industrial forestry creates for wildlife management.

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.

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