Increased government funding and an effective wildlife management plan were two main themes that came out of a wildlife roundtable this weekend in Cranbrook.
Representatives from environmental and wildlife conservation groups, along with political candidates running in the upcoming provincial election, spoke to a standing-room only crowd at the Heritage Inn about declining elk and deer populations and what strategies can be put in place to reverse the trend.
Groups represented included the Southern Guide Outfitters, Wildsight, Ktunaxa Nation Council, Elk Valley Rod and Gun Clubs and East Kootenay Wildlife Association.
Bill Hanlon, the organizer of the roundtable and president of the BCBHA, says he feels he accomplished his goal of getting a dialogue started to make wildlife management a priority in the upcoming election.
“People brought up every issue under the sun today and I’ve been saying this all along, but these are symptoms of a problem and the reason for this roundtable today was definitely to say that, ‘These are symptoms, how are we going to solve these symptoms?’
“The overarching principles that everyone here said today — all the stakeholder groups and the politicians — is we need resources, we need a plan and we need funding.”
Billed as a non-partisan event, the roundtable was relatively unpolitical, focusing on identifying problems and pitching potential solutions. However, some groups and opposition representatives took the government to task over a lack of adequate funding and a comprehensive management plan.
“What I saw today was new for me,” said Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett. “I wish I’d had this 10 years ago but maybe it takes a crisis to bring people together. You had every single disparate wildlife interest in the room today — environmental, First Nations, NDP Party, the B.C. Liberal Party…
“All different wildlife groups that don’t always get along, but they were all in the room today saying, ‘Yes, there is an issue, yes, we can do better, the status quo isn’t good enough.'”
While Bennett didn’t make any official announcement on how government is going to proceed, he teased that there are ongoing discussions in place between the government and the B.C. Wildlife Federation to create a new wildlife management model.
Bennett pointed to what the B.C. government did in 2003 when creating the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, a private non-profit society that is tasked with enhancing and conserving the province’s freshwater fisheries for public benefit.
In 2015, the government tweaked the FFSBC funding model so that fees from every all fishing licenses go right back into research, conservation and education programs.
That is a model Bennett would like to see applied to wildlife management.
“So all the revenues from [hunting] licenses and tags would go to that agency,” Bennett said. “We would have to give it some startup capital to get going and it will also, by creating that agency, would allow private sector money to come in to wildlife management.
“I can’t announce that, but what I can tell you is that the B.C. Wildlife Federation, which represents tens of thousands of people across the province…they have been working with my colleague Steve Thomson and government on this new management model and I believe that in the near future, we’re going to have some very good news for everyone who was at this meeting today. “
Other political figures at the roundtable included Tom Shypitka, running in the stead of Bill Bennett in Kootenay East, and Doug Clovechok, running to the north in Columbia River-Revelstoke, both for the B.C. Liberals.
Randal Macnair, for Kootenay East, and Gerry Taft, for Columbia-River Revelstoke were also present representing the BC NDP.
Samson Boyer, running in Columbia River-Revelstoke for the B.C. Green Party, and Justin Hooles, running the same riding as an independent candidate, were also on hand to give presentations.
“People take this seriously,” said Macnair. “It’s in our hearts, it’s in our homes, it’s in our backyards. It’s not what we do, it’s who we are, and that was reflected by the audience and that’s why this is so critically important.
“…I’ve been watching this unfold over the last 15 years and we’ve reached that crisis point. It’s a crisis point that we’ve come to as a result of neglect and cuts. Wildlife and habitat landscapes are one of the most valuable resources we have in this province. It’s internationally renowned, and we need to keep it that way.”
Shypitka said he happy to see a packed room and noted that while there were many groups who were represented, most had the same goals.
“It was a reaffirmation of what I already knew,” said Shypitka. “There are a lot of different user groups and a lot of them aren’t too far off from what the other is thinking, so there’s a real opportunity here to be a leader not only in the province, but across the country and throughout the world.”