Province’s Wildlife Agency Announcement Raises Big Questions

The province’s announcement of a new wildlife management agency raises more questions than it answers. Bill Bennett’s interpretation, reported in the press recently, threatens to take environmental management out of the hands of wildlife biologists and the public. Wildlife has strong intrinsic value to British Columbians and shouldn’t be managed for the benefit of any particular group.

People are getting mixed messages. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Steve Thomson and opposition critic Katrina Conroy are talking about enhancing wildlife through a new funding agency, while MLA Bill Bennett has recommended handing wildlife management decisions, including the grizzly hunt and wolf culls, over to hunters to avoid “politics”. Which is it? Additional funding for research and habitat enhancement is welcome, but taking control of wildlife management away from scientists and putting it in the hands of a select group of hunters is definitely not.

When we manage wildlife populations, we impact entire ecosystems and all living things. An ecosystem-based approach to land use is the only way to ensure healthy wildlife populations in the long term. Provincial wildlife staff have been starved of funding and disempowered by the province’s “professional reliance model” that has granted decision making power to industry. Government oversight of forests and rangelands has already been severely curtailed. Is this wildlife agency aimed at enhancing wildlife? Or is it an attempt to remove management responsibility from government, making it ever more difficult for the public to hold government responsible?

Government’s announcement of a new wildlife agency has been extremely short on details. What is the mandate—research and enhancement or taking over government’s decision making role? Who will be represented? It is time for politicians of all parties to clarify their intentions before the provincial election. British Columbians deserve to know what’s behind the proposed wildlife agency and how they can be involved.

Photo by Joe Riis