Redirecting millions of dollars in hunting licence revenue to wildlife management and habitat restoration has been pitched as a way to save dwindling elk populations across the East Kootenay.
Last week, The Free Press reported numbers in the Southern East Kootenay Trench, from Canal Flats to the U.S. border, had more than halved in 10 years.
The East Kootenay Wildlife Association (EKWA) released the results of an aerial survey conducted by the B.C. Government, which showed elk numbers had dropped from 14,115 in 2008 to between 6700 and 6900 this year in what it described as a “population crash”.
MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka said he was frustrated but not surprised by the survey, which confirmed what he had been hearing from hunters, the science community and other stakeholders for the past 2.5 years.
He believes the province is “light years behind” wildlife programs in the U.S. and all revenue from hunting licences should go towards wildlife management and habitat restoration, in addition to the current funding model.
“I personally would like to see an independent body handle the funding model so as we can partner with industry who could also contribute to this important issue,” he said.
“These additional revenues could also be directed towards the reduction of unwanted human/wildlife conflicts.
“Partnering with First Nation (groups) is also a very important factor as well.”
Shypitka’s party, the B.C. Liberals, announced a similar policy while in government in March last year, declaring all hunting licence revenues would be reinvested into wildlife management strategies, including the formation of a new conservation agency.
The stand-alone agency was expected to launch in the fall of 2017 with an initial investment of $5 million. After that, it would be funded by hunting licence revenue totalling $9 to $10 million a year. However, the policy was never implemented, with the Liberals losing their majority in the May 2017 election.
The NDP Government will instead launch a public engagement process on improving wildlife management.
In the 2018 Budget, it committed an extra $14 million over three years to wildlife and habitat management, on top of the $18 million a year it currently spends.
Shypitka believes the solution is a “holistic wildlife/habitat, ecosystem restoration, land access management plan”, while addressing hunting regulations in the short term.
He has pledged his support for local rod and gun clubs, who met with the EKWA last month to discuss their options for action on declining wildlife numbers.
“Our hope is to align our voice with other clubs from the area, with the EKWA and ultimately the BC Wildlife Federation, to have a consistent message that conveys the value that the outdoorsmen and women of British Columbia have in wildlife and habitat,” said Elkford Rod and Gun Club (ERGC) Vice President Dylan Forsyth. “More money and resources need to be dedicated to defining a science-based plan, to properly manage our lands and wildlife for now and for the future.”
The ERGC has noticed a steadily declining population trend for most ungulate species over the past decade.
“The degree of decline is now finally being quantified by research numbers, and it is scary,” said Forsyth.
He believes the population declines are likely the result of a culmination of factors and argues hunting regulations should be just one small tool in managing numbers.
“Hunter harvests can not bear the blame, as numbers for things not hunted are declining at an equal rate as those that are,” said Forsyth.
“The state of habitat needs to be addressed, and held in a higher regard when land is being considered for economic and social purposes.”
The ERGC has urged residents to tell the Government how much they value nature and wildlife in the hope of encouraging more investment.