In B.C., emotion is trumping science-based wildlife management
Hunters were understandably gobsmacked when B.C.’s NDP government announced it was considering severely reducing resident hunting opportunities in Region 7B. Referred to as the Peace Region, this management area runs from south of Tumbler Ridge all the way to the Yukon border. It’s a huge area, and it sees a large number of resident hunters. In short, the provincial government is proposing to place all moose hunting on a limited-entry draw, with the aim of reducing the harvest by 50 per cent. It’s also planning to eliminate all opportunities for residents to hunt caribou in the region.
The proposed changes were announced in conjunction with B.C.’s introduction of Bill 14, the Wildlife Amendment Act, 2022. It includes changes to the Wildlife Act that “will ensure Indigenous ancestral knowledge of wildlife is considered, and that will mean a stronger and more effective relationship for wildlife stewardship with Indigenous peoples.” So stated Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, noting the changes are part of the reconciliation process. The provincial Wildlife Act has not been changed to address Indigenous interests since 1966.
Hunters are understandably upset at the potential loss of opportunity, with the B.C. Wildlife Federation claiming the proposed changes are not science-based. The NDP-led government has a record of emotion-based management rather than following the science, including when it admitted the closure of the grizzly hunt was due to social reasons. That appears to be the case once again in Region 7B.
HUNTING ISN’T THE PROBLEM
According to a 2019 mortality study conducted by the B.C. government, resident hunters account for a very low percentage of moose mortality in the province. Citing that study, the B.C. Wildlife Federation is demanding that predation and habitat loss be addressed instead, arguing there is minimal benefit in reducing the resident harvest. The federation asserts there are much bigger problems in regions with low moose numbers, while the province’s own population surveys indicate several areas in Region 7B actually have extremely robust moose populations; they’re also well below maximum harvest numbers. The science just doesn’t back up the proposed changes.
In fact, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled late last year that the Blueberry River First Nation’s treaty rights to hunt, trap and fish have been breached “by allowing industrial development in Blueberry’s territory at an extensive scale.” According to the ruling, “the cumulative effects from a range of provincially authorized activities, projects and developments (associated with oil and gas, forestry, mining, hydroelectric infrastructure, agricultural clearing and other activities) within and adjacent to their traditional territory…has resulted in significant adverse impacts on the meaningful exercise of their treaty rights.”
Undoubtedly, the B.C. government is attempting to mitigate damage from that ruling by reducing resident hunter opportunities, rather than addressing the larger issues outlined in the ruling. That is virtue signaling at the highest level, and sadly it will do nothing to help wildlife populations. Instead, it will only unfairly penalize resident hunters, says the B.C. Wildlife Federation, which completely supports treaty rights.
SCIENCE MUST PREVAIL
At the time of this writing, B.C.’s limited-entry draws had not been released, confirmation to many hunters that the proposal will go ahead for the 2022 hunting season. The results of an online public survey about the changes had also not been released at press time, despite the survey being closed since mid-March.
Obviously, emotions are running high and provincial politicians have been flooded with angry emails and telephone calls. Blueberry River First Nations Chief Judy Desjarlais even received a death threat over the band’s support of the proposed changes. All hunting organizations in the province have rightfully condemned the threat, and reaffirmed their support for treaty rights. They aren’t backing down, though, from pressuring the province to take a science-based approach.
The NDP government claims the proposed changes are only an interim measure, and that they will be reviewed in two years. Given the government’s record of managing wildlife by emotion rather than science, however, hunters feel the change will be permanent if it goes ahead. As a result, they say they are in the fight of their lives. I don’t disagree—the current B.C. government’s anti-hunting agenda becomes more obvious with each passing season.
Western View is an opinion column, and we invite constructive discussion on the issues raised here.