A broken and dysfunctional system of provincial wildlife and habitat management may finally have the opportunity to be revitalized, says the director of strategic initiatives for the BC Wildlife Federation.
Al Martin says an audit of grizzly bear management released by the Office of the Auditor General of B.C. on Tuesday can be the paradigm shift for what has been 30 years of wildlife and habitat mismanagement.
“Most of the management focus has defaulted to around hunting regulations, and that has never been the fundamental issue,” said Martin.
“Hunting is all that remains after all the other impacts have taken away from the natural habitat capital of our province.”
Martin says the fundamental issue is the need to have clear and enforceable objectives across B.C.’s landscapes and watersheds that protect fish and wildlife and habitat diversity, objectives that are scientifically based and include stakeholder input.
“This is a huge opportunity for us all to look at future sustainability of fish and wildlife that otherwise has us reacting to an eroding bottom line that is going to reach zero,” he said.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer released the report to the public on Tuesday, pointing the finger away from hunting as the leading factor in wildlife and habitat management issues.
She cited other factors being overlooked, among them an increasing imposition of resource roads, such as for oil and gas exploration and development and forest logging, that now stretches to 60,000 kilometres in total length with more added annually.
“The expansion of development in oil and gas, forestry and human settlement makes it more difficult for grizzly bears to mate, and results in food source loss, as well as more human-bear conflict,” Bellringer said.
The auditor general also pointed to a lack of focus on wildlife and habitat management policy that overlaps different government ministries—in particular environment and forests, lands and natural resource operations.
Absent has been an inventory and monitoring strategy of grizzly bears in B.C. and lack of oversight evaluation whether those efforts are effective.
Bellringer said grizzly bears are important to monitor sitting at the top of the ecosystem, as they are an indicator of how well other species and ecosystems are doing.
Her department’s report includes 10 recommendations, one of them calling for government to review existing legislation to clarify roles and overlapping responsibilities between ministries.
Environment Minister George Heyman said the auditor general’s recommendations will be adopted by the provincial government, as is recognition that more “boots on the ground” are needed, such as hiring more Conservation Officers to oversee wildlife and habitat management policies moving forward.
“We recognize that need and plan to address that in our 2018-19 budget deliberations,” Heyman said.
Martin said the Okanagan Valley is an unfortunate example of how development coupled with agriculture have overwhelmed natural habitat and placed wildlife species and aquatic life in peril.
“Kelowna is named after the grizzly bear as they used to be prevalent in that region and that is not the case today,” he said.
“Our hope is we have reached the tipping point where we will stop worrying about who gets the depleting wildlife residual and start defining what is required to maintain the sustainability of our landscapes and watersheds.
“The auditor general’s report can be the paradigm shift where we all start to work collaboratively to achieve that result.”
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