A new province-wide coalition comprised of more than two dozen diverse organizations has been formed with the intent of urging the government to “re-establish the province as a world leader in fish, wildlife and habitat management.”
“A wide variety of often adversarial groups from across the province that share a common interest in fish and wildlife ecology are requesting that the government place a higher value on fish, wildlife and habitat,” explained Jim Turner, president of United Bowhunters of B.C.
The Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition or FWH Coalition as it is known, hopes to call upon the government to make changes that will address the steep decline of wildlife populations and their habitats in B.C.
Wildsight’s conservation director John Bergenske said that this group, which ranges from groups like the BC Wildlife Federation and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to guide outfitters and anglers, may have differing opinions on certain issues, but they all agree that the province has a big problem.
“We’ve got to get the habitat back in shape and we’ve got to start making maintaining wildlife a priority when government’s making resource management decisions in terms of the land base,” Bergenske told the Bulletin.
He said that the group continued to grow and add more members, and though they can find certain issues where disagreements arise, 90 per cent of the time they’re all on the same page, which is that wildlife hasn’t been the priority and that needs to change.
“We feel very strongly that it’s important that we all pull together to maintain the fish and wildlife, despite the fact that we may have some differences in terms of their management,” Bergenske said. “We all agree that they need to be a priority in terms of land use decision making and all of the resource decisions that are being made and at the same time that we need to find sufficient funding so that all happens.”
The change, he explained, must stem from fundamental changes to how legislation works, moving towards prioritizing wildlife first, rather than focusing on development first and viewing wildlife as a hindrance.
Their main target is the provincial government, as they seek to have changes made in provincial legislation, but individual groups will be working both at the provincial and regional levels to accomplish this.
“We recognize that wildlife do need to be managed based on the different reasons, because there’s very different things that are needed in terms of habitat requirements in different parts of the province,” he said.
Things like mining, logging and recreation all impact wildlife and their habitats. This coalition says that all decisions made regarding these industries need to demonstrate that fish, wildlife and habitat won’t be negatively impacted.
“It’s a real paradigm shift in terms of land use decision making,” Bergenske said. “Right now in forestry the legislation continues to say that you can protect wildlife as long as it doesn’t impact timber supply; that sort of thing needs to go.”
Here in the East Kootenay, there are two main priorities, protecting old growth forests and the ungulate winter range and grassland ecosystems.
“There’s a big push provincially with the old growth and the old growth strategy and so here in this region we’re going to be looking at the old growth areas that are remaining and trying to make sure that we get deferrals, or basically making sure that we don’t lose them while government is putting together its old growth strategy,” Bergenske explained.
He added that the levels of logging in the East Kootenay appear to be extremely high and the government needs to start prioritizing wildlife, because at the time it’s up to non-governmental conservation groups like Wildsight, and First Nations groups to keep an eye on them.
He said the first steps the coalition will take will be to secure meetings with government ministers in the land use sectors, and then hopefully working with senior bureaucrats on crafting the sorts of changes they feel need to be brought to fruition through legislative change.