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Guide outfitters report strange events amid wildlife-allocation dispute

Guide outfitter Michael Schneider says he is installing security cameras at his Prince George home after someone pointed a red laser — potentially, the type used on a hunting scope — at him while he was barbecuing in the backyard.
Guide outfitter Michael Schneider is concerned for his safety after an unusual incident at his Prince George home.

Guide outfitter Michael Schneider says he is installing security cameras at his Prince George home after someone pointed a red laser — potentially, the type used on a hunting scope — at him while he was barbecuing in the backyard.

“The laser pointer went up and down the wall and on me,” Schneider, vice-president of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., said in an interview Wednesday. “All I can tell you is that my family is concerned, my wife is concerned about safety. It makes you jumpy. I have no idea what it was. I can’t prove anything. I am not going to make any accusations. It could have been a kids’ prank, but it was bad timing.”

The incident is among a series of unusual events reported by the outfitting community that is putting a spotlight on an emotional ongoing dispute with resident hunters over provincial wildlife allocation policies.

On Dec. 10, Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, unveiled a new allocation formula for big-game hunting that led to B.C. hunters’ claim the province is favouring outfitters, who mainly cater to foreign trophy hunters. Thomson said he recognizes that resident hunters should be the highest priority but noted some guides are suffering to the point their businesses are in jeopardy.

Under the new policy, visiting hunters will be allocated 40 per cent of the annual allowable harvest of grizzly bears, up to 20 per cent of elk, up to 25 per cent of moose; 35 per cent of mountain goat, and 30 per cent of mountain sheep.

Scott Ellis, executive director of the guide outfitters association, said he left his 2008 Toyota Tundra idling in the driveway of his White Rock driveway Jan. 7 — the same day as the laser incident — while he readied for a drive to the airport and a flight to the Wild Sheep Foundation convention in Reno, Nev.

The next thing he knows, a thief is making off with his pickup truck.

“It’s running in my driveway,” said Ellis, who never made it to the convention. “I go back in to put the alarm on the house and lock the door and I am watching my truck drive down the driveway. It was a bit of a weird experience.”

About three hours later, the vehicle was discovered at the Canadian Inn on King George Boulevard in Surrey. Someone had tried to hack into the computer, but never touched $500 US cash in a pouch with his laptop. “They were in a big hurry or very sloppy,” he said.

Only about 10 days earlier, one of the association’s female staffers was among several residents whose tires were slashed on her street in south Surrey.

And in the Lillooet area, a cabin owned by John Sievers of Fraser River Outfitters burned to the ground on Dec. 28. He said he does not believe the fire is related to the allocation issue because there were no tracks in the fresh snow leading up to the cabin.

Jesse Zeman, co-chairman of the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s wildlife and allocations committee, emphasized that the federation does not condone any such activity, but noted that hunters are rightly riled up over the allocation issue. “The response has been visceral. People are not happy with the decision.”

As for any suggestions resident hunters are responsible for the strange series of events reported by outfitters, he said: “That’s out in left field for sure, for me.”

The wildlife federation, which has sponsored an online petition and rallies around the province protesting the allocation policy, says it would have preferred to see a 25-per-cent cap for visitors hunting sheep, goats and bears, and a 10-per-cent limit for moose and elk.

Still, it’s all making outfitters wonder out loud about why such events are happening now.

“We’re not accusing anybody of anything,” said Mark Werner, past president of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. “But when you take the threats ... and all these incidences in a very short time period, we have to draw our conclusions.”

Ellis, a registered lobbyist in Victoria, noted there have also been numerous threats and personal attacks posted on the website that have been removed. “We had to take legal action to get some of the defamatory statements down. They have obliged.”

Ellis, who is currently attending the Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas, added: “Quite honestly, I think they’re all coincidental. It just becomes ironic when things mentioned on hunting blogs happen. Was there a mention of burning cabins? Yes, there was. Was there reference and innuendo to somehow stopping GOABC from going (to the sheep convention)? Yes, there was.”

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said in January the province should go back and review the wildlife allocation issue. Thomson has told the association he is examining feedback on the issue.

“It’s very disappointing,” Ellis said. “This isn’t science and economics anymore, it’s all politics.”

He argued that as a result of a 2007 policy change, the number of hunting licences for outfitters has dropped 30 per cent to 4,500 from 6,500, which compares with about a 3.5-per-cent increase recently announced by Thomson after a lengthy consultation process.

Zeman said the outfitters are suffering, in part, from a decline in demand and from a decline in game populations such as moose. He argued that some operations are foreign owned and employ foreign workers and that wildlife should be managed for British Columbians and not privatized.

The outfitters association made $17,500 in B.C. Liberal party, candidate and leadership contestant donations in 2013, compared with $4,525 to the NDP.

“We support the Liberal government,” Werner said. “They are pro-business, pro-hunting. We’re not ashamed of any donations we’ve made.”

He added “we’re still not comfortable” with a 2001 NDP moratorium on grizzly bear hunting, which was lifted by the B.C. Liberals. “No doubt that’s why we lean toward the Liberal government.”