Efforts underway to assist elk and deer until springtime

On March 11, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett announced the province was investing $40,000 to feed wild ungulates.

On March 11, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett announced the province was investing $40,000 to mitigate the drastic impacts of one of the region’s harshest winters in decades but a conservationist is calling the move a short-sighted drop in the bucket.

The Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund (KWHF) is receiving the cash to purchase hay to feed elk and deer in strategic locations around the East Kootenay. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is lending support and advice to ensure feeding is done effectively.

“We need to ensure the animals can live through the next few weeks until nature starts to provide her early spring nourishment,” said Carmen Purdy, president of the KWHF in a statement.

But Jesse Zeman, spokesman for the 50,000-member B.C. Wildlife Federation, said the province will need to increase its conservation budget to reverse declining wildlife populations.

“Everyone is crossing their fingers that we’re going to carry a few more animals through the winter but the reality is that’s not going to protect anything over the long term,” he said.

According to the 2014 Provincial Ungulate Species Regional Population Estimates and Status released by the province, many ungulate populations are in long-term decline.

The study found caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and mule deer are considered in decline though populations of elk and white-tail deer in the West and East Kootenay were steady.

“The real issue is people are seeing declining wildlife populations across the province,” said Zeman. “People are so frustrated and scared of these trends in populations that they feel like if there’s anything they can do to help out, they’re going to try it.”

Zeman blamed population declines on the province’s relatively paltry spending on conservation.

He said an educated guess puts the province’s total conservation budget at $30 to $40 million, which includes the Fish and Wildlife Branch budget, the hunting and fishing license surcharge paid by hunters and anglers to the Habitat Conservation Trust Funding and the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC budget.

The $30 to $40 million is much less than the amount spent south of the border. Idaho’s conservation budget is around US $100 million budget, Washington’s is US $150 million and Montana’s is US $70 million.

“These jurisdictions are much smaller and have a fraction of the fish and wildlife diversity that B.C. has,” said Zeman.

Idaho, which is about a quarter the size of B.C., conducts inventories on mule deer population abundance every five years, while B.C. does not have a model to estimate their abundance. As a result, Idaho has over 40 years of data on mule deer populations while B.C. has none.

“That is a function of funding,” said Zeman.

Of the $14.5 million in hunter license dollars the province spends every year, only about $2.4 million is dedicated to wildlife through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

“We would like to see all of that license revenue go straight to the resource for monitoring, research and enhancement,” said Zeman. “We believe hunters would be willing to pay more if the money was going into the resource, not into general revenue.”

He also argued that industries such as mining, logging and ecotourism would also need to help fund conservation initiatives if wildlife populations are to be saved.