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New agency to fund wildlife conservation

Goal is to take politics out of decision-making for wildlife management and predator control, says MLA Bill Bennett.
The BC Liberal government has announced the creation of a new agency that will undertake wildlife conservation projects and be funded by hunting license and tag fees.

A new wildlife conservation agency is in the works that will collect all revenues from hunting licenses and tags and reinvest the money into management activities.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett made the announcement on behalf of Steve Thomson, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, noting that the B.C. Liberals are moving forward with the initiative based on stakeholder input from local and provincial wildlife organizations and advocacy groups.

"I'm really hopeful that growing populations is where we can put our focus and energies instead of fighting over the last crumb that's out there," said Bennett.

"Let's grow populations, lets figure out how to do that instead of what we have done traditionally in the past, and I have believed this since the day I first took the job. We have a common enemy, and that is people who don't think we should hunt, and they love it when we're fighting amongst ourselves."

The agency will receive $5 million in startup funds from the government, and is expected to reap between  $9 million to $10 million from annual hunting license and tag fees.

The government is also investing $200,000 that will go towards determining a governance model and investment priorities for this new agency that will consult with stakeholder groups, First Nations and the public later this spring.

"There's a tremendous amount of expertise amongst resident hunters, amongst guides, amongst trappers that government would be foolish not to tap into," Bennett said. "We're well aware that we should not try to create something in the bureaucratic offices of Victoria, this agency has to be created in a way that accomplishes the goal that guides, resident hunters, trappers, everyone, even if you don't hunt, wants — which is to increase the populations of wildlife."

Bennett made the announcement at his constituency office with a gathering of wildlife conservation and hunting representatives, including the BC Wildlife Federation, East Kootenay Hunters Association, East Kootenay Wildlife Association, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Guide outfitters and the Shuswap Indian Band.

A lack of funding for wildlife management has been a bone of contention for many wildlife conservation groups, according to Dave White, past president of the BC Wildlife Federation and president of the Canal Flats Wilderness Club.

"With so many other priorities the government has to look after, wildlife management has become very low on the totem pole and they haven't put the resources they need into it to do it properly," White said.

"This announcement today will put more money into it and hopefully manage wildlife in a much better way."

The Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations currently spends $18 million annually on wildlife management, not including salaries, according to Bennett. He added that the idea for this new agency was approved internally by the government a year and a half ago, but has been working creating a governance structure and operational responsibilities.

"The model that we have in place right now…is decades old," Bennett said. "There hasn't been significant increases in decades and decades in terms of what is spent on wildlife management.

"Government has lots of priorities that you focus on and in terms of wildlife, we, by necessity, focus on species that are threatened, like Caribou, and you end up spending a helluva lot of time and money on species like that."

The challenge, Bennett continued, is ensuring that funding goes to priorities such as endangered species and the Mountain Caribou, while also making sure that enough resources are also utilized for other management priorities, such as ungulate populations and predator control.

Bennett blamed the politics on wolf culling as a barrier to predator management.

"We have a wolf cull, but it is designed largely to impact Caribou herds, which is fine, but in my view, predator management should be done within the context of all wildlife, not just one species," he said.

"If predators are having an out-of-proportion impact on one species, then government has an obligation to manage those predators effectively."

As a model for this new agency, Bennett pointed to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., which was created in 2003 as an independent society to manage and conserve fish populations and habitat in the province. Previously, all responsibilities of the FFSBC had been administered by the Ministry of Environment.

"I think what's needed in wildlife management is to get all of the politics out of it and where I see politics over the last several years is around predator management in particular. Government is afraid to manage wolves or grizzly bears in some cases because of the politics of that.

Hopefully an agency that is separate from government can make decisions that are in the best long-term interests of wildlife and just forget about politics and do what's best for the animals."


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