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Advocates spotlight wildlife issues ahead of B.C. election

Hunters say key issues are wildlife management, funding, legislated objectives and public access
Jesse Zeman, executive director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, speaks during a wildlife town hall in Cranbrook on Saturday, April 27, at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort. Trevor Crawley photo.

The future of wildlife management in B.C. ahead of the fall provincial election was the focus of a recent town hall meeting hosted by the B.C. Wildlife Federation in Cranbrook.

In front of a room packed with hunters and advocates at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort, keynote speakers raised concerns about the current state of wildlife management and frustration that decisions aren’t being made based on science or evidence.

Other issues centred on a significant lack of funding for wildlife management as well as a need to ensrhine targeted objectives into legislation and ensure public and hunter access to the province’s natural resource values.

While the event was non-partisan, there were political overtones in the discussions, as Jesse Zeman — executive director for the B.C. Wildlife Federation — encouraged people to contact their MLA’s and political candidates to advocate for wildlife in the months ahead of the election campaign.

Zeman noted that hundreds of thousands of B.C. voters annually purchase a hunting or fishing license, or are registered firearms owners with the ability to sway the results of the upcoming election.

“What that means is that you should be terrifying to parties and every single party should be catering to you because they should realize that if you all vote together, you control the outcome of the election,” Zeman said.

“You have the votes to change the outcome of the next provincial election, if we’re all on the same page.”

Zeman threaded his address with examples of issues that are vexing the hunting and conservation community.

Zemen raised the example of bighorn sheep in the Kootenays — particularly around Radium — which recently went down to a Limited Entry Hunt (LEH), essentially a lottery draw, after the province determined sheep numbers were down.

However, only four bighorn sheep were harvested by hunters in the first LEH season, while significantly more died due to roadkill on Highway 93/95.

Management of moose and caribou in the north was raised as another example, as an LEH framework was imposed as a result of a court decision involving resource extraction, even though hunter harvest numbers of both species were considered sustainable, according to Zeman.

“We’re managing hunters out,” Zeman said.

Funding for wildlife and habitat management was also raised as a key issue, as the province earmarks roughly $30 million, when comparable jurisdictions are spending nearly triple or quadruple that amount.

Funding gaps include prescribed and cultural burning on the landscape, which directly affects habitat.

Zeman noted that the Rocky Mountain Trench is losing approximately 3,000 hectares of grasslands — a primary food source for elk — to closed canopy forest.

The Trench is categorized as a fire-maintained ecosystem, meaning fire is necessary to remove forest fuels, while also renewing and regenerating native grasses and shrubs.

According to the province, there were 23 prescribed burns last year across B.C. that covered only 2,214 hectares. There are 61 burns planned for 2024.

Specific to the Kootenay region, the arrival of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in two samples that tested positive from two deer near Cranbrook is now the biggest threat to wildlife in the province, Zeman said.

He criticized the pace of the province’s CWD response plan, which calls for increased testing after an initial positive case is identified, in order to determine the disease’s prevalence in the area where it was discovered.

Only two deer were harvested under the terms of a wildlife permit that was issued specifically to collect samples from up to 25 deer in the South Country area, where one of the CWD test-positive results came from.

READ: Additional testing for fatal wildlife disease comes back negative

The cases were identified on Jan. 31 through lab testing, while an initial wildlife permit allowing the special harvest was eligible until the end of March 31, that only got samples from two deer.

The province issued a new wildlife permit that expires on May 31.

“This is the biggest threat for wildlife in B.C. now, bar none. This is it. And it took us nearly three months to harvest two deer,” Zeman said.

“You’re gonna need a whole bunch of money to increase sampling, to get quicker turnaround times on sampling. There are going to be places, if we have a high prevalence, where we’re going to have to actually go in and actively manage wildlife.”

READ: Testing key to identifying, slowing spread of fatal wildlife disease detected near Cranbrook

Cranbrook may well serve as a significant vector for CWD transmission due to the city’s urban deer population density, Zeman added.

“You’ve had town deer problems here for years … and the province refuses to deal with it and quite frankly, Feb. 1, they should have started reducing deer in this town,” he said.

In addition to Zeman’s presentation, Dr. Bruce McLellan also addressed the crowd, walking through his experiences as a wildlife research ecologist and the challenges, as a field researcher, to influence decision-makers within the provincial bureaucracy.

The event was hosted by Mark Hall, with Blood Origins Canada, who hosts the Hunter Conservationist Podcast.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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