The number of hunters in B.C. is still less than half what it was 30 years ago, but according to young people, there’s far more social acceptance of hunting than there was even a decade ago—although perhaps for different reasons than historically.
Today, explains Jesse Zeman of Kelowna, who is a director of both the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Oceola Fish and Game Club, most of his and his wife Chelsea’s friends are hunters—in part because they love the outdoors and in part because the meat is local and organic.
Today’s hunters like to know where their food comes from. They believe wild game meat is better for you than that of domestic animals raised on ranches and in feedlots.
“Hunting dynamics have changed. It’s now socially acceptable to be a hunter,” says Zeman.
And, there are far more women who enjoy the activity today than historically, he says.
As well, he points out there are long-term benefits to the health care system from people who are physically active outdoors like hunters are, even into old age.
“Parents and families are getting outdoors together too. They’re spending time with friends and family outdoors. There are huge social benefits,” he notes, noting “at the same time hunters are providing healthy food for their families.”
General open season for hunting grouse and both white-tailed and mule deer in the Okanagan Region began Tuesday, while black bear and coyote opened the previous week and ducks and geese opened Thursday.
Warm summer weather likely dampened the enthusiasm for opening day locally, but Conservation Office field supervisor Sgt. Josh Lockwood says they were out checking hunters on local backroads this week, although few had animals yet.
They are seeing more young hunters, and also more female hunters than they used to, he says, noting there seem to be more women hunting in the Okanagan than in other regions where he’s worked.
At 19, Bethany Froehlich of Peachland has been hunting all her life.
She got her hunting licence at the age of 10, when she also shot her first black bear.
She is chair of the youth committee for the Okanagan for the B.C. Wildlife Federation and sits on the board for the Okanagan.
“There’s definitely been a change in the perception of hunting by young people in the past four or five years,” she says.
“It’s not just about going out to kill an animal; it’s about providing organic, healthy meat for the table and it’s a way of living. It’s not barbaric. It’s part of our heritage.
“It’s pretty neat that we can harvest our own food from the wild.
“There’s not the social sigma there used to be.
“Sure, there are still those who don’t agree with it, but they’re fewer—especially if you’re hunting for food, not trophies.”
Froehlich believes that the fact there are more women who hunt today may help to make hunting more socially acceptable.
“Hunting for sustenance makes you very connected with the outdoors,”
“I love being out in the bush and that connection with nature. Hunters are more connected with the natural environment; with the ecosystem they’re in than other people are. You’re invested in those resources.”
For her, it’s a lifelong interest. “It’s a part of who I am,” she says.
Her whole family has hunted and enjoyed outdoors activities for her whole life and now her friends hunt too.
It’s also a sport that brings in significant funds to provincial coffers.
A report published earlier this summer detailing the Expenditures of B.C. Resident Hunters showed that hunters from the Okanagan spent $26 million last year on hunting, including on equipment and lodging, fuel and food, while those who hunted in the Okanagan Region spent $29 million.
And across the entire province, $230 million was spent by resident hunters in B.C. last year, so the sport contributes significantly to the provincial economy.
They are figures that Zeman feels local chambers of commerce would be surprised by.
It’s not so obvious here because often they’re amongst other visitors, but that visiting taster at a local winery could well be a hunter who is back in town after a day out hunting in the Okanagan’s back woods, he commented.
This region, the report showed, has the third most resident hunters of any of the nine resource management regions in the province and the second most hunting activity.
In all, 1.2 million days were spent hunting in B.C. by resident hunters last year, and 10,400 hunters live in the Okanagan.
The number of licensed hunters has risen in recent years, up from a low of 84,000 in 2004 to 98,000 in 2012, but it’s a far cry from the 174,088 who were licensed in 1981.
Of the 98,000 who were licensed last year, about 92 per cent were men.
Tom Ethier is a wildlife biologist and is assistant deputy minister for resource stewardship in the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry. He notes that hunting’s role in the economy is particularly felt in rural areas of the province.
“It’s a re-distribution of money that keeps the economy going, especially in the shoulder season,” he says.
In addition, licence revenues support government services as do taxes paid on the goods used for hunting.
Although all hunting licence fees currently go into general government revenue there is a move to have that changed so that licence fees go into management of the resource instead.
Zeman is adamant that those funds should go into providing staff so B.C. has the capacity to properly manage the resource. Both staff and budgets have been slashed in recent years.
In addition to regular licence fees, there are surcharges on licences which go to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation for use in restoration and research projects to help in management of wildlife and habitat. That’s about $5 million to $6 million a year.
On the environmental side, Ethier says hunting plays a role in the sound management of populations of wildlife within the carrying capacity of the land; it helps regulate populations.
It can even play a role in recovery of declining populations by reducing the competition between species in order to help a declining species turn around.
Opening seasons on prey can also have impacts, such as helping a vulnerable species recover, he noted.
A less-obvious benefit from hunting is the education about the natural environment it provides to those who participate, he said.
“It puts people in touch with nature. You’re not just driving through (the natural area). Hunting forces you to connect to the natural environment and it engenders a sense of responsibility,” he explained.
“Hunters have a deep history of caring about environmental issues. Even beyond the awareness of biologists, hunters go out in the field and think about what they’re seeing so they can understand the animal and its life. It’s a tremendous education; one that’s far more than theory,” he added.
Where hunting is disallowed by local bylaws you also see a move toward more human/wildlife conflicts, he noted.
In communities such as Cranbrook and Grand Forks, where a cull of deer was approved after too many moved into town and began threatening homeowners and their gardens—trappers and shooters were employed instead of hunting regulations used to reduce the population. Hunting as a tool used humanely and sustainably, is a benefit to all concerned, says Ethier.
“Hunting maximizes the benefit. It’s a big challenge for wildlife management to deal with wildlife conflicts in communities,” he added.
He sees a reversal of the trend of opposition to hunting because people are becoming fed up with Bambi trotting through their well-tended gardens and eating their rosebuds. That has tipped the scales in favour of hunting, he believes.
“Sometimes awareness brings about a change in attitude,” he adds.
A series of articles in the academic International Journal of Environmental Studies, published online this past June, focuses on the North American Model of Conservation, which is based on the use of hunting for wildlife management.
One of the articles was written by James Heffelfinger, of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Valerius Geist, a professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, and William Wishart, wildlife research biologist emeritus, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, on the role of hunting in North American wildlife conservation.
They note that the continent-wide agreement on policies of conservation of a century ago have worked extremely well as North America “enjoys a nearly complete compliment of native predators and prey species. Hunters have been the cornerstone of this success from the beginning.”
They state that hunters not only bring the funds and advocacy to the table, but also are effective logistical agents of population management.
They wrote: “The early days of North American wildlife management were spent stopping declines of those species the human population found useful in some way and encouraging population growth with limited seasons, male-only hunting, daily bag limits and other restrictions.
“As successful law enforcement, habitat preservation and wildlife management programs grew, so did most wildlife populations. Studies show that when large mammal populations are too abundant for the amount of habitat, reproduction decreases and mortality increases because of intra-specific competition for resources.
“Reducing densities lessens competition and increases the population growth rate by improving reproduction and survival.
“Early biologists saw this compensatory effect of harvest as evidence that game populations could be managed as a renewable natural resource where the population replaces the portion removed by hunters.”
This article says although almost everyone enjoys wildlife, it is the hunters, anglers and recreational shooters who make the financial contributions that support sustainable conservation.
In addition to hunted species, they also pay for conservation of habitat for non-game and endangered species who require wild habitat, to the benefit, largely, of non-hunters—some of whom express concern about seeing hunters on the properties during the few weeks a year hunting seasons are open, they note.