Letter: B.C.’S outdoors being privatized

The public data used to derive these 60 animals [additional hunting allocation to guide-outfitters] is protected by cabinet confidentiality.

To the editor:

B.C. Government on wildlife allocations: “It’s only 60 animals.”

Hunting in the Okanagan is an increasingly popular activity; it allows family and friends to enjoy the outdoors, exercise, learn about the natural environment, and hopefully put some meat in the freezer.  Numbers of British Columbians who hunt have increased significantly since 2004 from 84,000 to over 102,000.  Over 14,000 British Columbians hunt in the Okanagan annually, spending more than $26 million on food, fuel, lodging and other hunting related supplies.  Females and youth are the fastest growing segments.  The rise of the 100-mile diet, food security and healthy living are driving forces.

In the Okanagan there are several conservation clubs made up of hunters, anglers and naturalists.  Fish and game clubs have annual fundraisers which are open to the public.  Many of these fundraisers are so popular they sell out in a matter of minutes.  The proceeds help pay the bills to restore, enhance and protect our natural resources throughout the valley.

Club members spend thousands of volunteer hours and dollars to purchase conservation lands, conduct habitat enhancement, stream restoration and build and maintain hiking trails and habitat preserves for public use.  Clubs work with First Nations to ensure conservation of wild spaces, and that future generations have access to outdoor activities such as berry picking, hiking, fishing and hunting.  Unfortunately the government is in the process of reducing future generations’ access to these public resources in favour of a few private interests.

After conservation and First Nations’ needs, the province’s Wildlife Allocation Policy is government’s method of distributing hunting opportunities between resident hunters and non-resident hunters who, by law, are required to hire a guide-outfitter.

Most North American jurisdictions do not require non-resident hunters to hire a guide-outfitter and non-residents are given 5-10 per cent of hunting opportunities.  The difference between B.C. and most jurisdictions is the adoption of an inclusive model, named the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.

Over 100 years ago conservationists such as US President Teddy Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier believed fish and wildlife were common property resources and everyone, including the “common man” (or woman), should have access to them.  Contrary to the European system where landowners and the elite own wildlife, this approach would result in greater buy-in and public support to ensure the conservation of our natural resources.

Flying in the face of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, in December 2014, and again in February 2015, Steve Thomson, B.C.’s minister of forests, lands and natural resources unilaterally decided to give guide-outfitters an unprecedented share of wildlife to sell leaving more British Columbians freezers empty.

While most jurisdictions are giving non-resident hunters 5 to 10 per cent of opportunities, B.C. is now giving 15 to 40 per cent of the harvestable surplus of species such as mountain sheep, mountain goat and moose to guide-outfitters, effectively privatizing that component of wildlife, a common property public resource.

In the Okanagan moose are a high demand species.  Many hunting opportunities for B.C. hunters are placed under a lottery system as hunter demand is greater than the harvestable surplus of wildlife.

This year close to 5,500 B.C. hunters will apply for 200 lottery moose hunting opportunities in the Okanagan.  Odds for the lottery are as high as 95:1 in some areas, meaning most who apply will never in their lifetime “win the lottery.”  Conversely, a non-resident with enough money can purchase an animal from a guide-outfitter and hunt every year.

Government’s code words for rationalizing this change are “outfitter viability,” which is the politically correct version of guide-outfitters claim they are going broke.  Minister Thomson has stated on numerous occasions government’s unilateral decision is only a transfer of 60 animals from British Columbians to guide-outfitters across the province.  Naturally, the public data used to derive these 60 animals is protected by a cabinet confidentiality agreement.

It seems transparency is so important to government, even the public cannot see public data.

When questioned, some of the MLAs in the Okanagan have stated to their constituents that it is only one animal throughout the region and that these changes were required for guide-outfitter viability.  Unfortunately, the public data that has been made available to the public not support government’s tale.

Through policy manipulation, and increasing moose populations, guide-outfitters allocation has nearly tripled from 12 moose per year in 2001 to 35 per year in 2015.  Guide-outfitters allocation for moose in 2014 was 28, this year it will be 35, an increase of 7.  According to some MLAs it is only animal; according to public data it is far more.  Just how big does the subsidy need to be to ensure guide-outfitters remain viable?

The irony of this is some of the increase in allocations is a result of moose inventory work which local clubs paid for out-of-pocket.  In 2010 government threatened to reduce resident hunter harvest of moose because of perceived population declines and increased moose harvest due to unmitigated access, a result of logging from the mountain pine beetle epidemic.  Local fish and game clubs scrounged together $40,000 to pay for aerial counts – the Guide-Outfitters Association of B.C. chose to free-ride and did not “chip-in” to pay to ensure accurate inventory was being conducted.

The results in the study area showed the moose population was nearly double government’s previous estimate.  Government benefited by not having to pay for one of its core responsibilities, and the guide-outfitter in the area received an increase in allocation.  While moose hunting opportunities were still reduced for resident hunters, the results gave hunters comfort knowing moose were being managed sustainably.

The irony continues as it is known throughout government that guide-outfitters cannot sell their moose allocation in the Okanagan.  In fact some guide-outfitters have been giving these hunting opportunities to friends and family to make it appear they are selling their allocation and there has been an economic contribution.  To help rationalize its “outfitter viability” argument government has been happy to bias its economic data and count these hunts as full sticker price!

While some MLAs claim it’s only one animal in the Okanagan, guide-outfitters in the Okanagan have received tremendous benefit since 2001 – it is B.C. hunters, and fish and game clubs who are paying the price both literally and figuratively.  What is the point of volunteering your time and money towards conservation if government is going to reduce or eliminate your access and give it to a private interest?

Minister Thomson considers his government’s decision fair and balanced.  How does removing access to a natural resource which thousands of Okanagan residents and hundreds of thousands of British Columbians volunteer to conserve, and cherish, represent the public’s interest?  Will 40 per cent of B.C.’s lakes and parks be set aside for guide-outfitters to ensure their viability? Will there come a day where 40 per cent of our beaches are set aside to subsidize a few special interests?

In B.C. we are well on our way to privatization, following in the shoes of the European model where fish and wildlife are owned by individuals.  According to government it is not a big deal.  So long as you do not intend on hiking, fishing, hunting or using any public spaces in the future I agree.

Jesse Zeman, Wildlife Committee

OCEOLA Fish and Game Club