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Posted: May 12, 2018

We’re light years behind U.S. wildlife programs

By Tom Shypitka

The recent elk survey that was taken to answer the question on wildlife populations in the area are in. The numbers being reported have stated that the elk populations in 2008 went from 14,115 elk to 2018 populations of 6,700. This is over a 50% reduction in our elk population in just 10 years!

My response to this report is that I am not surprised but very frustrated.

First let me just state that I am not a hunter. I have a hunting licence but in my opinion to be a hunter you have to earn that title. I have been in constant conversation with the hunters of our area, as well as biologists, government/first nations, stakeholders and user groups for the past two and a half years.

Everything I have heard in that time makes me not surprised with this latest survey. The only good news from this latest survey is that it confirms my opinion that the best people to make decisions about our backcountry are those that use it, and not the bureaucrats in Victoria.

A year ago our educated analysis on elk populations were between 7,000 and 7,500. I guess our boots on the ground can at least agree with one thing with those on the coast.

Effective wildlife management depends on how much we focus on habitat restoration and biodiversity. We believe that revenues from ALL hunting licences should go towards wildlife management and habitat restoration – in addition to the current funding model. I personally would like to see an independent body handle the funding model so as we can partner with industry who could also contribute to this important issue. These additional revenues could also be directed towards the reduction of unwanted human/wildlife conflicts. Partnering with First Nation is key as well.

The long-term solution is a holistic wildlife/habitat, ecosystem restoration, land access management plan. This is bringing together a lot of issues from ranching to trapping, from guide outfitting to social and cultural values. Make no mistake this is a HUGE issue and will take time to implement and a tremendous amount of hard work. This has never been done before in British Columbia, but it needs to be done now.

In the short term, I believe the current hunting regulations need to be addressed before our long-term goals can kick in. I have some common changes that I have pitched to the minister responsible but so far this has fallen on deaf ears. I have also presented an implementation plan to start on our long-term goals as well. This has also fallen on deaf ears and I have had no response so far.

As mentioned this is a long-term challenge and in order to do this we need scientific data that comes with proper funding. Most importantly, however, we need to utilize our greatest resources and that is the people of this region. I have met so many incredible people who out of the love of the backcountry have committed their time and money to make our backcountry a better place only to be frustrated with the slow grinding wheel of the bureaucratic process.

I will give 100% support to local rod and gun clubs and all organizations in the area. The people who make up these groups for the most part are the best stewards of the land that we have. They will be the first ones to clean up a park or a riparian area. They are conscious of the balance of wildlife like no other people, they know the backcountry like none other and believe it or not they respect wildlife like no other. I know some people have a hard time understanding this when it is time to harvest but for some this is a very spiritual and social part of their lives and these people above all have the most to lose so I believe they need to be part of the solutions.

I don’t want to make this a partisan issue as I believe we have been ill-funded for decades and have not been given the resources we need for this issue to be addressed properly. We are light years behind wildlife programs in the U.S. and it shows. Wildlife has a value. We put value on our timber, our coal, our gas and yet we fail to put a true value on our most precious commodity of all… our wildlife. This will change and I will do everything possible to assist in this change.

We have numerous priorities in our region from healthcare to education but none is more unique to Kootenay East like our wildlife and habitat issues. I will continue making this a top priority and look forward to working with government to ensure this happens.

The East Kootenay Wildlife Association (EKWA) released some results of an aerial inventory game count completed this winter for elk in the East Kootenay (below 1,200m elevation).

A stakeholder on the Kootenay Wildlife Hunting Advisory Committee, the EKWA this morning shared survey results on Facebook.

East Kootenay elk (MU-s 4-02 to 4-04, 4-20 to 4-22, 4-24 to 4-26) population estimate (total elk):

2018 – 6,700 to 6,900 elk;

2008 – 14,115 elk;

Approximate 50% decline in 10 years.

The 2018 survey also showed:

Calves per 100 cows = 38;

Bulls per hundred cows = 14.

Also reported to EKWA, “Bull harvest appears to have been increasing even though the population was decreasing. (Final numbers for the licensed hunter bull harvest is not yet complete).

“Spike bull harvest is estimated to account for 25% of the bull harvest; illegal bull elk take (five points and smaller) from self reports and abandoned kills could potentially make up five per cent of the total bull harvest.”

EKWA also noted that the only proposed regulation changes are: eliminate spike bull season; reduce/eliminate cow LEH tags.

“There is still no plan to recover elk and no objectives for the elk population or hunter harvest. #managingtozero,” EKWA stated on Facebook.

Tom Shypitka is Kootenay East MLA

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