Comment: Province needs to protect its natural capital

With fish, wildlife and natural capital disappearing at an alarming rate, the time has come to ask an urgent question: Is B.C. losing what makes it special?

When the B.C. Wildlife Federation went looking for answers last spring, holding 17 town-hall meetings around the province, it tapped into a growing sense of anger about the broad declines in natural capital we have experienced since the 1980s.

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It became apparent — through discussions with the public, anglers, guide-outfitters, naturalists, ecotourism operators, resort owners, hikers, conservation organizations and First Nations — that no one is happy with the current trajectory B.C. is on.

Our shared natural capital is being burned up at an alarming rate and if it continues, our children will see a B.C. that looks very little like the one we know.

How do we fix it?

The needs of fish and wildlife management are funding, science and social support. We have been failing at all three for decades.

The government has taken dollars away from natural-resource management and the Fish and Wildlife branch, and given them to virtually every other government ministry. Given the size of our province, and diversity of fish and wildlife, B.C. should have the best-resourced fish and wildlife agency in North America, when, in fact, ours operates on a budget that is missing the shoestrings.

Without funding, the outlook for science is bleak. In terms of inventory and monitoring B.C. has failed to achieve the bare minimum since the 1980s. Steelhead in the Thompson and Chilko rivers, which totalled as many as 7,000 in the 1980s, have hit record lows. The story of vanishing caribou, which started nearly 40 years ago, continues. These are indicators of a landscape that is being imperiled by a lack of adequate protection and investment.

B.C. has no plan for what this province will look like in 40 years. There are no meaningful mandated objectives for habitat, fish and wildlife across our province.

Without adequate funding science, fails, abundance declines across much of B.C., and social support is non-existent. Those who cherish our natural resources are fighting over an ever-diminishing pie. Government’s historical approach to managing fish and wildlife has encouraged conflict through an exclusive and divisive process.

If we intend to leave a semblance of today’s environment to future generations, B.C. needs to change — we need a new approach to take care of our landscapes, watersheds, fish and wildlife. It needs to be well funded, science-based and built for the long-term so that future British Columbians can enjoy what we enjoy today.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation sees the first step is to dedicate all fishing and hunting licence fees to the resource and having other natural-resource users contribute financially.

The money can operate inside or outside government. Outside of government the ability to leverage dollars is increased significantly. Some of North America’s most successful conservation organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, can take one dollar and consistently turn it into three or four. Typically, leveraging funding is not a core strength of government.

B.C. needs to set objectives across landscapes, and watersheds for habitat, fish and wildlife populations. We have tried operating without objectives and the result has been declining funding and declining populations. The focus needs to be placed on improving monitoring, research, restoration and most importantly maintaining intact landscapes.

The BCWF would like to see a roundtable created at provincial and regional levels to implement objectives identified through science. Those who are investing in the future of fish and wildlife should be involved to ensure funds are used appropriately and effectively.

If we look back at the changes the province has gone through over the past 40 years and project forward, future generations will only see what we see today through photographs and videos. That is a reality we need to grapple with now.

Jesse Zeman is manager of the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s resident priority program.

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