The BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) has been a dedicated driver of fish and wildlife protection programs for the past 60 years. With over 50,000 members across the province, BCWF has been hosting town hall meetings in the lead up the provincial election on May 9th, meeting with the public and discussing the issues that are facing fish and wildlife.
On Friday, April 21st the Invermere town hall meeting was packed full of members of the community from all walks of life, inlcudiung local Rod and Gun club members, avid hunters and fishers, and even those just in town for a visit.
BCWF director and East Kootenay Wildlife Association vice president Mark Hall, and Jesse Zeman, resident priority program manager at the BCWF, spoke about the history of BCWF and what concerns for fish and wildlife populations exist at the moment.
“We’re one of the most trusted non-profits in Victoria because we’re solution focused,” said Hall.
Part of the town hall meeting was focused around what can the individual do to help the situation, with Zeman stressing the importance of talking to the local government.
“People in B.C. have not put their hand up and said this is unacceptable, elected officials do not know who you are,” said Zeman. “You’re (those concerned about wildlife) a significant force, but the reason you’re not getting the money right now is because you’re not speaking up.”
During the BCWF town hall meeting, three points were brought up for discussion — those being financial, science, and social support. As the provincial budget has gone up over the years, renewable resource management has gone down, and Zeman made the point that this hasn’t been a recent decline.
In 1977 recommendations were made by the Fish and Wildlife Branch to add to the budget over the next three to five years. In 2003, a new model was introduced that promotes recreation conservation, with some of the fees for licenses going to enhance fish, parks, and hunting. Now in 2017, all license fees from natural resource users hunters, anglers, and ecotourist will go back into the enhancement of wildlife activities.
Throughout his presentation, Zeman made reference to decreased animal populations such as the caribou, and fish populations such as the steelhead trout, saying that if these species populations are protected before they get too low thwn a population crisis can be avoided.
“The message around these kinds of animals is if you get down to 14, it’s going to cost you exponentially more than if you deal with it now,” said Zeman.
The next issue he focused on was the lack of science being done, due to the lack of funding in the province. Using the example of Idaho to make his point, Zeman compared the system for funding in Idaho to British Columbia. He said that Idaho has a budget of $106 million for fish and wildlife expenditures, working out to $65 per person being spent on fish and wildlife, in an area a quarter the size of B.C.. In B.C. the budget is $34 million, working out to$7 per person spent on fish and wildlife.
“Once you have money, you do science,” said Zeman.
The problem with science in B.C. according to Zeman is that it isn’t being done often, and that for the system to work there needs to be monitoring, research, objectives, and management.
“You have to do it constantly so you know what’s happening to the resource,” said Zeman.
Using the example of the moose population, there is no objective for how many animals the province wants to see return each year, so the population isn’t being managed. It’s known that calfs aren’t surviving the winters but because there is no monitoring system they don’t know why. Zeman said that if you don’t monitor this stuff ahead of time, it costs you 15 per cent, 20 per cent more to get it back.
That’s where social support comes into the picture, Zeman said that B.C.’s social support for fish and wildlife looks liked a car accident, that people need to start coming together to protest against the government, share the issues that matter with local elected officials and work to get more funding for fish and wildlife.
Local residents had the chance to ask questions or state their concerns to the BCWF during the meeting and many members of the public were upset that the government hasn’t made fish and wildlife a priority.
“I really feel insulted that our government has to wait for us to talk to them. I know that animals and fish don’t vote but that’s not a reason,” said one community member.
Another resident said “this fight’s been going on a long time, I think the challenge is how do you get elected officials to take note?”
Columbia River-Revelstoke riding MLA candidates Samson Boyer and Doug Clovechok were in attendance of the event. Both candidates were in agreeance that fish and wildlife is an issue in B.C. and is a Kootenay issue and that something has to be done.
“For the BC Wildlife Federation to come in and organize a forum like this and to have that kind of crowd, I think there was over a 100 people here, that was fantastic because I think it really demonstrates how much people care in this Valley. It truly is a Kootenay issue for us.,” said Liberal candidate Clovechok.
Green candidate Boyer put out a call for change in B.C.’s management of fish and wildlife and highlighted the need for engagement.
“We need to increase the investment in our wildlife. More funding is incredibly necessary, as well as we need to work more with local communities and get the people more engaged, get their voices out more. From what I’ve heard here, people’s voices are not getting to the government, they’re not getting to Christy Clark, they’re not getting to the NDP and it’s sad to see,” said Boyer.
During Zeman’s presentation he encouraged those in attendance to sign a BCWF petition and to meet directly with members of parliament in person – a theme the two candidate were only too happy to jump on.
“The two things I’m going do is, number one I’m going to sign the petition tonight, and number two when I’m elected as the MLA I’m going to help with that petition and take that with me to Victoria,” said Clovechok.
To learn more about how you can get involved with BCWF or to sign the petition visit http://bcwf.net/.