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Evan Saugstad: Wildlife management in B.C. - When in doubt, blame someone else

Part 4 in a series
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Hunting in the Northern Rockies.

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News Flash: No steelhead return to Another River. Fishers blame loggers.

News Flash: Last caribou dies on Another Mountain. ENGOs blame industry.

News Flash: Moose populations at record lows in Another Area. First Nation hunters blame recreational hunters.

Although these headlines are fictitious, these are the type of headlines we see. Partially true, partially false, and very selective in what and how the information is reported, which makes for great difficulty in understanding what the true story is and why.

To most, unless the story relates to an area you frequent and use for hunting and fishing, you may think: Why should I care?

Well, you should, as where you hunt or fish just may be the next headline.

In the first three parts of this series, I wrote on the mismanagement of our natural environment when it comes to fish and game species, with the lack of resources, funding, and effective management strategies by government playing a leading role.

A commonly held belief is that it is always someone else’s fault when a particular species population is in trouble. That is natural and expected, as it is rare that anyone stands up and says, “Blame me, I did it.”

It is easy to believe the headline that blame loggers when no steelhead return to an area that has been actively logged for years. The story sounds reasonable when there is no information to the contrary. But when you ask about the areas where there is no logging and no steelhead have returned, you get silence, as that does not fit the narrative.

Sports fishers tend to say it is not them as they only play with them and then release. Aboriginal fishers say they only catch what they need. Commercial fishers say they are not allowed to keep, so they let them go, even if they are dead.

Government says, we don't know why, but we'll now close the season and begin studying why after our budget is approved.

And the ENGO that wrote the original story and whose ulterior motive was to stop logging, will just ignore the questions and go back to reciting their report about the watershed being destroyed.

Much the same for big game populations in many parts of B.C.

A licensed hunter fills out a questionnaire and reports they hunted for days and days and finally harvested one. An aboriginal hunter may or may not as they are not required to. Government will say no problem, lots of big game elsewhere in the province, just go hunt there. ENGOs will just say ban the hunt.

Normally, why a species has declined is not clearly understood.

Our province does not conduct regular baseline studies or inventories as part of their normal management practices. As a result, they have no idea on what is happening until they finally get someone’s message that there is nothing left to count or report on.

Then the finger pointing and blame games starts, which keeps us all running in circles.

What gets lost in this merry-go-round is that it is the collective us, the residents of this province, who are responsible, if not for the declines, then certainly for the lack of effective recovery efforts.

Sadly, until we place higher values on our wildlife populations this will not change, as much of what needs to change is nothing more than implementing new management strategies that place values on our wildlife.

As I wrote in the first three parts, management strategies are as only as good as the budgets they are assigned.

Although we may not fully understand why steelhead or salmon disappeared, our biologists have managed to convince our governments that hatcheries to boost specific populations are not a good idea. Many of our ENGOs fully support this supposition as they would like nothing better than seeing industrial activities stopped in the watersheds that contain a declining or threatened fish population.

But, as always, the rationales are only partially true.

Yes, done incorrectly, hatcheries do increase the risk that local genetic variations will be affected. It is also true that many other jurisdictions have and continue to successfully use hatcheries to boost local fish populations.

Hatcheries do cost money, and that is something our government seems unwilling to do for rural B.C.

Hunters in many parts of BC report low mule deer or moose populations, thus low levels of successful harvests. Blame varies widely, depending upon where it is and who is reporting.

Common themes are too many predators, too many cutblocks and not enough thermal cover, too many roads and too easy for animals to be harvested, too much herbicide use, not enough forage, too much grazing and not enough winter feed on winter ranges, too many tags issued, season too long, too much unregulated hunting and poaching, and…

The list is long. Time and space do not allow for comment on each, but there is a common theme.

All are controllable factors that can be managed, but they take resources with adequate budgets.

As an example, when an area is been extensively harvested and has a high density of open roads and cutblocks, hunting seasons and harvest levels can be adjusted in consideration of these changes. We already have Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) regulations, the ability to adjust harvest seasons and if required, close roads for wildlife conservation purposes.

We don’t have to wait until the last animal disappears to address the outcomes we know will happen.

Same for managing predator and prey levels. Regular inventories and population surveys, combined with local information gathering from those who are knowledgeable of the area can be used to set harvest levels and seasons, and/or implement predator reduction programs.

Again, not complicated if managed at the local level with sufficient resources. Many other jurisdictions successfully accomplish this.

As always, where there is the will, there is always a way.

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?

Wildlife management in B.C., Part 2 - Politics rule

Wildlife management in B.C., Part 3 - An organized mess

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Email your letters to editor@ahnfsj.ca