The ballroom of the Four Points by Sheraton in Langford isn’t normally filled with burly men in camouflage, trading stories of moose hunting and giving advice on who’s best to butcher their deer.
Tuesday night was the exception.
Amidst the cheerful story swapping, however, a palpable sense of tension and frustration lay beneath the surface of the group – over 100 strong – as they milled about the room waiting for the microphone to click on. There was a feeling amongst those in the hall that their government is ripping them off.
“Are we privatizing a public resource?” came the rhetorical question from the front once the presentation began.
Al Martin, director of strategic initiatives for the B.C. Wildlife Federation, was trying to address that issue in Langford and at similar forums around the province, in response to recent changes to B.C.’s Wildlife hunting tag allocation policy.
The policy allocates the division of wildlife resources between resident and non- B.C. resident hunters who utilize guides, but only after accounting for conservation needs and the constitutionally protected hunting rights of First Nations.
“Basically, when you take conservation requirements off the (wildlife) populations and you take First Nations use off the populations, what’s left is what’s allocated between these two groups,” he told the gathering.
Martin explained that allocation was previously done using a very complicated and somewhat arbitrary process, and people bogged down the process with appeals, so the government dramatically increased allocations in an attempt to streamline. The allocation process was changed in 2007 to one Martin believes was fair, transparent and equitable between residents and the guiding sector.
But late in 2014, it changed again.
Minister Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced in December that a much higher percentage of game licenses will be issued to guides and other non-B.C. resident hunters.
Martin says the ministry is responding to pressure from guides to make their businesses more profitable, and that’s the wrong way to create wildlife policy.
“Science is the proper tool for the discharge of wildlife policy,” he said. “Without the proper assessment, management and research, we will not be able to sustain our wildlife populations. Wildlife will only be preserved if there is adequate investment and attention made to the sustainability of watersheds and landscape. We, as an organization, are fundamentally committed to that.”
Quoting the past number of licences issued and to whom, he illustrated an increased trajectory in the “non-resident” allotment numbers.
“What we’ve ended up with is the guides harvesting a disproportionate share of animals,” he said.
He ended by highlighting allocation scenarios in other areas of North America, including other provinces in Canada, where percentages are much higher in favour of resident hunters. “We’re clearly out of step.”
The microphone was finally taken by people in suits who stuck out like a sore thumb all night.
B.C. NDP leader Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan said it’s important that people get angry about the latest change and rally against it. He encouraged letter-writing campaigns to bring this issue to the attention of the people who can make a difference – those in government.
“I’m a born-and-raised Vancouver Islander,” Horgan said. “I had an expectation when I was growing up, that you could access our common resources. Our fish, our wildlife, our forests. What we’ve seen over the past 10, 15, 20 years – and that covers the NDP years, as well, I’m not being partisan here – we’ve seen an erosion in the common good in the interest of the corporate good. That has to stop.”
Calling Thomson one of the “decent” people in the legislature, Horgan said once the evidence comes to the minister in the form of letters of concern about the change, Thomson will see the light of day on the matter. “You’ve begun the process by coming here tonight. Now send the letters and send the emails.”
“Let’s throw them out if they do this!” yells the first speaker from the crowd after the presentation. “We have the right to vote and we can vote against them!”
Others surely feel the same way and the B.C. Wildlife Federation wants those people to get loud.
For more details on the BCWF initiative or to sign the petition, visit bcwf.bc.ca.