Are we losing what makes B.C. special?
British Columbia is known for its spectacular wilderness and diverse fish and wildlife. But habitats are under pressure and the province’s natural abundance is diminishing.
The BC Wildlife Federation is concerned about the decline in many fish and wildlife populations in the province. That’s why we’re hosting town hall meetings in dozens of communities to outline the problems and present solutions.
The 50,000-member BCWF represents more than 100 individual clubs in nine regions of the province, as well as direct members and partner groups. To address deteriorating conditions for fish and wildlife in individual regions, we examined a number of provincial trends.
From 1998 to 2011, provincial government funding for renewable resource ministries dropped by 56 per cent. In the 1960s, B.C. was investing 0.60 per cent of its provincial budget on the Fish and Wildlife Branch; it has been in continuous decline and the branch now gets 0.06 per cent of the provincial budget. With more people and pressure on our natural resources, combined with fewer resources to manage them, we are seeing long-term declines in abundance across the landscape.
Caribou, moose, elk, and mule, and black-tailed deer populations have been declining for decades. For example, on Vancouver Island, the black-tailed deer estimate has declined by 70 per cent over the past four decades. In central B.C., moose populations have recnetly declined 50 to 70 per cent. Several central and southern caribou populations, which have been closed to hunting for decades, continue to disappear.
Declining fish stocks
British Columbia’s lakes, streams, tidal waters and stocks of salmon, steelhead and trout attract anglers from B.C. and around the world each year. But some famous fisheries are in serious trouble. The Kootenay Lake kokanee and Gerrard rainbow trout used to be popular catch (and release) fish for sport and recreation angling. But in 2015 and 2016, kokanee spawner returns were very low; at about 40,000, they are only a fraction of the 500,000 to one million kokanee that normally spawn.
Fraser River steelhead has long sustained First Nations people; steelhead was also central to this interior region’s world-class recreational fishery. At the present time, Fraser River late-run summer steelhead stocks are at extremely low levels of abundance and in a state of “Extreme Conservation Concern.” The Thompson and Chilko Rivers, which saw combined returns of approximately 5,000 fish in the 1980s, both reached record lows of 430, and 134 fish, respectively, in 2016. The Thompson fishery declined from 14,000 angler days in 1985 to 4,000 angler days in 2005 — and, more recently, to no fishing.
The popularity of eating fresh local food has encouraged an increase in hunting and fishing activity. A comparison of resident freshwater angling licences issued from 2005 to 2015 in B.C. shows a steady increase in the number of anglers, from 250,000 to 280,000. Resident hunter licences went up from 90,000 to 112,000 annually over the same 10-year period.
Reversing the trend
To turn things around, we need to act. Funding is a fundamental pillar to sustainable fish and wildlife management, yet B.C.’s fish and wildlife branch is one of the most under-funded and under-staffed agencies in North America. While most agencies in northwest North America spend $180 to $850 per square kilometre, B.C. is spending approximately $36 per square kilometre. Places like Washington, Montana, and Idaho – which are much smaller and have a fraction of the diversity of fish and wildlife – have budgets which are two to five times greater than B.C.’s.
Fish and wildlife populations can be restored
- The BC Wildlife Federation has created an on-line petition calling for all hunting licence revenues to be directed back to managing the resource. We also call for all natural resource users to contribute directly to recover and increase fish, wildlife and their habitats across B.C.
- Science should identify legislated objectives for habitat, fish and wildlife populations. There is currently no road map to ensure future generations can enjoy what B.C. currently has to offer and basic monitoring of wildlife populations are not being met.
- Social support should come from a roundtable with First Nations and those with a vested interest to work together collaboratively. It’s up to all of us to ensure that there are fish and wildlife in our wild spaces. Let’s make sure future generations can enjoy the outdoor legacy of our beautiful province.
To find out how you can take action, sign our petition and join the BCWF, please visit www.bcwf.bc.ca
This story was provided by the BC Wildlife Federation for commercial purposes.
More from Jesse Zeman and the BCWF on Episode 36