British Columbia

Proposed hunting regulations reveal a bleak picture for some B.C. wildlife

Newly proposed hunting regulations put forward by the B.C. government reveal a bleak snapshot of several declining wild animal populations in the province.

'It's getting to a crisis mode,' says Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka

Elk in the East Kootenay Trench area are down to about 7,000 animals. (CBC)

Newly proposed hunting regulations put forward by the B.C. government reveal a bleak snapshot of several declining wild animal populations in the province.

Many of the proposed regulations, released last week, recommend tighter hunting restrictions for ungulates such as deer, elk, moose and caribou. 

"Generally speaking, I would say that the trend is that there are declining populations in a number of areas of the province," said Jennifer Psyllakis, director of the wildlife habitat branch with B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Psyllakis said the proposed regulations, which include rationales for the government's recommendations, are a response to what they're seeing in certain wildlife populations.

Moose south of Pink Mountain in the Peace River Region have declined by more than 51 per cent since 1977 (no precise number was given), while elk in the East Kootenay Trench area are down to about 7,000 animals. 

The province says a healthy number of elk is between 8,500 and 11,300 animals, so it's proposing a ban on killing cows, or antlerless elk, throughout the entire Kootenay region

The province is confident tighter restrictions can help populations rebound.

"We can often see fairly quick responses with changes in hunting regulations," said Psyllakis.

The population decline has multiple causes, including trees lost to mountain pine beetle outbreaks, trees lost to fire-risk reduction, as well as general changes in climate patterns, Psyllakis said.

Tree die-off and tree clearing creates a more open landscape, which makes it easier for predators to hunt for animals. It also removes some of the natural habitat of ungulates.

"It's not the same everywhere in the province and some things are more easily controlled or managed than others," Psyllakis told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

The public is free to comment on any of the proposed changes until Jan. 17, 2020. 

Next year, the ministry is expecting to have an additional $10 million in its budget.

"We're really excited by that and we're working right now through a public engagement process to finalize what our priorities are," said Psyllakis.

Critics want more done

Hunters and a Kootenay MLA say B.C. governments have failed to properly manage the land over many decades and need to gather more data.

Jesse Zeman, director of fish and wildlife restoration with the B.C. Wildlife Federation, said hunters generally welcome more regulation if it helps populations rebound, but he worries hunters will eventually be regulated out of the backcountry.

"We're just seeing this continual slide where wildlife populations and fish populations are in decline," Zeman said.

"Kind of as a result, hunters and anglers get regulated out of the use of this resource because there's not much left."

Zeman says more data is needed for animal populations, with less reliance on anecdotal information from the public.

MLA Tom Shypitka thinks a proposal to restrict antlerless white-tailed deer hunting in the Kootenays doesn't go far enough. (Bobby Haven/Associated Press)

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka agreed, saying the data on animal numbers is insufficient.

"It's getting to a crisis mode and I think the biggest fear is that we don't have any proper science, we don't have any proper data, we don't have any proper funding to put in place a good wildlife management plan," said Shypitka.

The MLA thinks a proposal to restrict antlerless white-tailed deer hunting in the Kootenays doesn't go far enough.

He says local hunters and conservationists want a total ban on killing does for two years, noting back-to-back tough winters played a roll in a die-off of animals.

"This two-year moratorium is a conservative approach to the real issue of not having proper data in the back country," said Shypitka.

Not every population declining

Some animal populations are in less danger. Government biologists believe mountain goats in the Thompson area can survive a longer hunting season, while white-tailed deer also are moving into the Cariboo. 

Zeman warns, though, that white-tailed deer moving into another landscape is not always good news, as the animals often can move in where mule deer are struggling to survive.

"Where we're seeing increased white-tailed deer, we don't necessarily want to see increased white-tailed deer there. We'd rather see mule deer come back and moose come back in those areas," he said.

There is also more opportunity to hunt deer on Hornby and Denman islands, though large amounts of privately owned land on those islands provides a challenge. 

With files from Radio West

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