Looking back on hunting season 2017

The 2017 hunting season has come and gone, and without question it will go down as one of the most dismal seasons in decades.

F J Hurtak

The 2017 hunting season has come and gone, and without question it will go down as one of the most dismal seasons in decades.

B.C. in general experienced the worst wildfire season in the history of the province, and although problem wildfires hit northern parts of the province early, by mid summer the extremely dry conditions had caught up to us here in the East Kootenay as well. The early September bow season was lost, as well as the first week of the rifle season.

Certainly in that time frame, it was very much the right decision by government to close the forests down to prevent further devastation.

Even after things did return to normal in the woods, hunting success rates and big game animal sightings seemed to be some of the lowest in years for the vast majority of the people I chatted with while assembling this article.

There are always exceptions to the rule of course, especially when it involves hundreds of different hunters, and if you were in that category this year, kudos to you, and continued success in the future.

Most though, indicated they had far lower than normal results this past season, and that it has been a continuing downward spiral for the past few years

Then I called David Beranek of the Southern Guide Outfitters to see what kind of season the outfitters had, as they are in the backcountry just about every day of the season. Beranek said it was “challenging and disappointing again this year for many of the outfitters, because ungulate populations appear to be at unacceptable levels for some species.” Naturally, when hunter success rates are lower, some local butcher shops I contacted also reflected that decrease.

To address this whole issue earlier in the year, a Wildlife Management Round Table was held in Cranbrook last March, spearheaded by the BC Chapter of the Back Country Hunters and Anglers, and the cross section of organizations that they invited to the table was very balanced. The event was held at Cranbrook’s Heritage Inn and the turnout was so large, organizers had to set up extra seating and sound capabilities in the lounge next to the main ball room to accommodate the overflow. Although the Round Table addressed a lot of mutual concerns and possible solutions, there was one area of wildlife management they avoided at the forum. It was that of the overly liberal hunting regulations we have enjoyed for years in our region.

Afterwards, though, many of the written and website commentaries from people who attended made it clear that they wanted changes in the regulations to assist in rebuilding ungulate populations.

Even after the hard winter last year, The Fish and Wildlife Branch did not implement any changes whatsoever. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some local hunters have now started a petition which is currently circulating throughout the East Kootenay. In it, they are asking that government undertake immediate action that is science based, and not social or interest based, with the goal of restoring ungulates to sustainable population levels. They want all hunting ended (rifle and archery ) seasons for non-antlered whitetail deer, cow, calf, and spike bull elk and the bow hunting season for elk to be restricted to three point bulls or better.

Some that I have talked to say they certainly signed the petition, as did I, but wish it had gone even further, and asked for the spike-fork bull moose season to be eliminated as well. If you are interested in signing this petition it is available in Cranbrook at Mountain Man Outdoors and when completed it will be delivered to the Legislature in Victoria. Certainly that is the right place, as local biologists in our region don’t appear to have much say in provincial policy when it comes to wildlife management.

I think more regional and sub-regional autonomy would indeed be a very positive step to assist in ungulate population recovery. Whether that will ever happen remains to be seen, but as it is mostly political, I contacted Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka for his comments.

Shypitka has recently told several media outlets that one of his top mandates is to help restore ungulate populations here in the East Kootenay. I asked him his thoughts about the petition, and what other plans he may have to accomplish his objective.

These are his comments:

“I choose to group wildlife management, land access, and ecosystem restoration together as one, because one is not good without the other. When one of these three are affected by natural progression, or by man-made policy, the remaining issues become affected as well. I have taken a 3 pronged approach on this issue. A properly funded independent wildlife funding model must be introduced, scientific data must dictate the planning of our management and regulations of our wildlife (predator and prey) and of course regional representation must provide the safeguards, opinions, and common sense input into the scientific model.

“We have to be careful, cautious, and conservative in anything we do, because we have been through knee jerk reactions before. We need look no further to what I am relating to, than the NDP’s new outright ban on grizzly hunting in this province. It is purely based on emotion, not science.

“We do not need to double down on this. What we need is pro-active solutions in getting the much needed funding and data to the table. We cannot solve our huge problem with any quick feel good solutions to a very complex issue.”

For anyone that has questions or concerns in regards to wildlife management issues in general, Shypitka encourages contacting him to set up an appointment or send him an email to tom.shypitka.mla@leg.bc.ca.

I do agree with our MLA for the most part. Properly funded scientific data should rule the day when it comes to wildlife management.

However, overwhelming antidotal evidence from hundreds of hunters in the field every year, also has to be considered a part of the overall scientific data collected, because it’s some of the most valuable low-cost information one can put together on any given species. So, yes, without a shadow of a doubt, the long and liberal hunting seasons we have, are a factor, BUT only one component in the overall big picture as to why wildlife populations here are in somewhat of a deplorable state. Here are some of the other contributing factors in my estimation.

A: Too many predators in certain management units — more needs to be done to properly manage predators, but first, proper and accurate numbers of same, need to be established. (i.e. wolves, cougars, bears) before a course of action is determined.

B: A major increase in highway traffic in the last ten years, near notable wildlife corridors. It’s difficult to remedy this one because human populations are increasing every year and so is the demand for the land base.

C: During heavy snow years such as last winter, there is usually an increase in railway kills, as elk and deer use the railway tracks as a corridor when moving from area to area. The winter of 2016/17 in terms of snowfall, was the worst winter since the “Winter from Hell”, in 96/97. Mortality rates on the winter ranges also escalate a great deal during harsh winters.

D: The lack of funding for proper wildlife management and habitat restoration. was a major topic at the above mentioned Wildlife Management Round table and even groups who might normally disagree with each other, all agreed that this was a serious issue and must be addressed soon.

E: Statistics indicate over the past ten years that over 3000 kms of new roads have been carved into the wilderness due to logging, mining, and forest fire control. Less than 10% of these roads are ever decommissioned or closed, and are left open to all forms of motorized traffic, so all of us can now go places deep into the backcountry, where a decade ago we had to access these places ONLY by foot or horseback. Naturally, that too has had an impact on short-term hunting success rates and subsequent wildlife populations which reside there. We CAN have an effective balance for all concerned in this regard, but first we need to identify all critical wildlife corridors and funnels, followed by a proper access management plan. For that we need government funding as Shypitka has outlined. and there has been very little of that in recent years here in B.C. compared to many other jurisdictions in North America.

F: Again, reverting to the last ten year window — in that time frame there has been a major increase in publically-funded, high wildlife fencing in our region. These fences have altered migratory patterns of ungulates like never before, and have made elk and deer more susceptible to road kills, predators, and hunting pressure. Elk in particular can, and do cause significant crop damage, so I am not arguing right or wrong here, just merely stating the fact that much more of this type of fencing now exists than ever before and it too has played a role in the problem at hand.

In summary, which of the above factors are more significant or more important than others, on a scale of 1-10, is an arguable point, BUT it’s somewhat irrelevant, because combined, they have all contributed to the proverbial “perfect storm scenario”, and does give one some insight into why our wildlife populations are in such dire straits. Sadly, to remedy the problem and restore big game populations to where they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago may now not be a possibility. We all have to face that, but having said that, improvements from where we are today, can certainly be made. The way I see it, is that all hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in general are going to have to accept some short-term and possibly long-term restrictions in the very near future as a starting point, to give ungulate populations a legitimate chance to rebound. As is obvious from reading some of the information in this article, many responsible people are already unselfishly stepping up to the plate, putting wildlife first, and their own personal agendas and objectives second. That is a positive sign for constructive change.

Have a wonderful New Year everyone, and hope to see you in the field or on the Lake.

F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books “Elk Hunting in the Kootenays”, and “Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays”. All profits from the books have gone to land for wildlife and habitat restoration in the Kootenays.

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