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Opinion: Data doesn’t support proposed B.C. hunting regulations

Further reducing hunting opportunities goes well beyond sustainable wildlife management
B.C.'s proposed hunting regulations are out for public comment until March 22, 2024

British Columbia's resident hunters were dismayed by the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in two deer in the Kootenays.

But, as the battle is joined against so-called "zombie deer disease," hunters were pleased to see the provincial government welcome them as allies in the fight.

Don't stop hunting, the government said, because it is crucial to harvest and test animals in the disease hot zone.

The province also gratefully acknowledged the role ethical and responsible hunters played in identifying the incurable disease in the first place.

That's why hunters are now so alarmed and disappointed to see an extremely different message from government in recently overhauled hunting regulations.

The proposed 2024-2026 hunting regulations—now out for public feedback—include reduced hunting opportunities for B.C. residents, with no compelling scientific data to support the cutbacks.

A proposal to severely reduce moose hunting opportunities in the Skeena region is a prime example.

The draft regulations call for a reduction in "high hunter densities in areas commonly used by First Nations exercising their harvesting rights" and to scale back "overcrowding of hunters" in the region.

The idea that a vast province like British Columbia is "overcrowded" with hunters is ridiculous and a simple analysis of hunter numbers shows why.

According to the B.C. Wildlife Federation, British Columbia has just 0.29 licensed resident hunters per square kilometre of land.

Compare that to neighbouring Alberta, which has more than double that density at 0.63 hunters per square kilometre.

The disparity is even greater in the United States. Hunter density in Washington state is nine times higher than British Columbia, while Utah has 10 times more hunters than B.C., and Oregon has 11 times more.

The fact is British Columbia is among the least-crowded hunting jurisdictions in North America.

But that has not stopped the province from embarking on a disturbing trend of removing resident hunters from the land.

It started in 2017 with the decision to ban the hunting of grizzly bears in B.C., a pre-election move driven more by opinion polling than wildlife science.

Grizzlies are not an endangered species in British Columbia. And since the hunting ban was imposed, there are increasing reports of human-grizzly conflicts.

In 2016, the year before the hunting ban, there were just six reported grizzly bear conflicts in the region around Whistler.

There were 28 in 2022, and an astonishing 30 in the first six months of last year, the most recently available statistic.

Reducing human-wildlife conflicts are just one benefit of sustainable, science-based wildlife management.

But the province continues to remove hunting opportunities for B.C. residents with no compelling scientific rationale.

That includes a 50-per-cent reduction in moose hunters and the closure of caribou hunting in a large section of the Peace region, and hunting reductions of bighorn sheep and goats in the Kootenay region.

At the same time, the government has drastically cut back on the scientific research that's supposed to underpin and drive these decisions.

Provincial funding for natural resource management has been decimated, plunging by 75 per cent over the last 20 years.

And revenue from hunting licences and tags, partially used to fund proper wildlife management, will be further eroded as the government reduces hunting opportunities.

We're going in the wrong direction. It is high time that British Columbia returns to the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the most successful system of its kind in the world.

This model places robust science and fairness for all citizens at the heart of wildlife management, ensuring our wildlife remains abundant and hunting opportunities are sustained for generations to come.

It's the most effective way to ensure food security for Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, safeguard endangered species and protect biodiversity.

It is crucial that B.C.'s resident hunters raise their voices. The public feedback period on the new regulations closes on March 22.

Now is the time to contact your MLA and enter your opinion on the Engage BC website.

Mark Hall is director of the Blood Origins Canada Foundation and host of "The Hunter Conservationist" podcast.