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Endangered Species Management: Caribou versus Wolves

Over the last few months British Columbia’s controversial wolf cull has been the subject of substantial public dialogue. Like most MLAs, I receive ongoing communication from numerous British Columbians questioning the rationale behind the government’s approach. These communications crescendoed when well known singer Miley Cyrus spoke out against the cull and urged her more than 23 million followers to sign a petition. One of the recent communications I received was from a young woman named Katie. She started off her email saying:

“My name is Katie, and I oppose the wolf cull. In school we learned about predator prey relationships. I know you probably won’t care, and that the government will go ahead with it anyway, but please read this…”

I found her email to be a source of inspiration. Despite her apparent cynicism towards politicians she took the trouble to express her concerns to me (even though she is not a constituent). Her email struck a chord. I campaigned on a promise of evidence-based decision-making and giving youth in our society, the generation that will have to live the consequences of the decisions my generation is making, a voice in the legislature.  And so Claire Hume and I decided to look at BC’s controversial wolf cull a little more closely. What follows is an extensive analysis of the available literature. Our analysis derived from many hours of discussions with scientists, including wildlife biologists, with expertise in the area.  I look forward to your comments.


Mountain-type_Woodland_CaribouIs it justifiable to kill one animal in the name of saving another? What if one of those animals is endangered?

I have always maintained that humans have a moral obligation to prevent endangered species from going extinct, but wildlife management conflicts in which species are pitted against one another are always challenging. For a variety of industrial, social, or budgeting excuses, they are often situations that have been allowed to escalate far past a point of simpler intervention. When you start rationalizing culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside scientific findings. Let one – or both – of those species become threatened or endangered and your situation becomes immensely worse.

Many ecosystems have been altered so drastically that we can no longer let nature take its course. If we don’t continue to intervene with the mountain caribou crisis we are currently facing in B.C., for example, it will not be long before the remaining herds in the South Selkirk and Peace regions are extirpated. Ideally, our wildlife management system would never let things get this bad. But it happens. And when it does we have no choice but to make tough decisions.

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Credit: Stephane Alberola

In January I wrote to the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to ask a number of questions regarding the rationale for the wolf cull in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace region. In response Minister Thompson sent me the supporting data that backed up their wolf cull. I read through it and agreed that with 18 caribou left we needed to take immediate and drastic action to ensure as many caribou as possible survived through another breeding season. Since then, the issue has continued to polarize our province with both sides of the debate claiming science. And in many ways, both sides are right. There is supporting evidence that suggests, for certain situations, that culling wolves is an appropriate wildlife management tool. There are also many other studies that conclude that it is an ineffective solution, one that could make the situation even worse while causing a great deal of animal suffering in the process.

So, where do we go from here? We do a literature review of the available relevant research and we have a conversation. We explore the feasibility of other options and try to find a solution that maximizes protection for threatened species while minimizing the harm done to all other animals. Over the last few months my office has been talking to scientists and analyzing data across disciplines, across species, and across the country (across continents in one case) to learn more about endangered species management.

Lessons from the Vancouver Island Marmot

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Credit: Andrew A. Bryant

In the late 1990s the Vancouver Island marmot population dropped to 70 members. While clear-cut logging in marmot territory was thought to be the initial and main reason their population numbers were plummeting, the landscape changes also led to increased predation. Between 1995 and 2005 predation by wolves, cougars, and eagles accounted for 80% of marmot mortality. Much like the caribou, habitat destruction was the main catalyst for their decline and wolves moved in to take advantage of the new open landscape. I reviewed the group’s marmot recovery plan and contacted them to ask why predator control has never been a part of their strategy.

Their Executive Director, Viki Jackson, said they tried everything they could think of on Mount Washington in place of culling predators: they collared cougars and brought dogs in to scare them away, had “shepherds” stay with the marmot colonies, put dirty human clothes around to deter predators, put up fences, and used bear bangers. Having people camp with the marmots 24/7 worked well, Jackson said, but the other attempts didn’t do much. At the same time, they started to have success with their captive breeding program. Without their active intervention the Vancouver Island marmot would have likely gone extinct years ago.

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Credit: Allen Miller, USFWS

When it comes to endangered species management, Jackson said, there will never be consensus but you have to do everything in your power to protect key females when animal numbers drop to extreme lows. You need to get them over the extinction hump and stable enough that other conservation efforts have a chance to help.

While the specifics of this case do not exactly translate to the needs of larger, transient animals like caribou, I found their imaginative approach to crisis species management inspiring. Threatened species in our province are facing very modern difficulties as they try adapt to new stressors and habitats changed by development. Perhaps we should be trying to combat these challenges with equally modern and innovative solutions before defaulting to predator culling, a practice that only targets one aspect of highly complex situations. With this thought I contacted Dr. Adam Ford from the University of Guelph’s Department of Integrative Biology to talk about the use of technology in wildlife research and management.

GPS Management

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) placed on collars, Dr. Adam Ford explained, can be used to pinpoint, with high accuracy, the location of an animal at a given time. It is also possible to track animals and process data almost instantaneously.  Knopff and his colleagues, for example, used GPS to track cougar predation to study predator/prey interactions with immediate data retrieval. “Real time monitoring has enormous potential in the fields of wildlife ecology and conservation, especially for at-risk wildlife,” their report states.

With these systems you can monitor the spatial relationship between an animal and a wide variety of geographical features. Data can be collected that orients an animal in relation to specific points (like feeding grounds), linear features (roads, fence lines, fishing nets, etc.) and  spatially dynamic features (like a mobile herd of livestock). Given these tracking advancements, and the incredible success scientist and conservation officers have had using them in wildlife management settings, it is hard not to feel hopeful imagining the great potential for their use with woodland caribou in BC. I think it would be worth assessing, for example, the feasibility of attaching GPS’ to select members of threatened caribou herds and their neighbouring wolf packs, as suggested by Dr. Ford. You could outfit caribou and wolves with GPS collars, Dr. Ford explained, and program them with a GSM-linked messaging system that warns managers when wolves, say, are within 1 km of the caribou. The managers could then travel to the coordinates shown in the GSM message, and herd the wolves away with aversive conditioning. That way, intervention is case-specific and the helicopter time is used much more efficiently. They use this method in Kenya with elephants to keep them away from crop fields and refer to it as ‘geofencing‘.

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Credit: Brittany H

I appreciate comparing elephants to caribou sounds dangerously like an apples-to-oranges tangent, but the success the Save the Elephants organization has had with GPS-based wildlife management is incredible and certainly worth further consideration. Their Geo-fencing program started ten years ago, in the hopes of reducing human-elephant conflicts. “Kimani was the first elephant to be collared and tested under the Geofencing [system]. He became the focus of the Ol Pejeta management due to his considerable skill in breaking expensive fences. In December 2005 he went on a crop-raiding spree that lasted 21 straight nights.”

In phase one of the project they programmed a virtual fence line (or string of coordinates) into the GPS collar worn by the elephant. If the elephant strays out of his designated range – suggesting he is heading towards farms or villages – his collar sends a text message with his exact location to the reserve managers, who can then mobilize and intervene with negative reinforcements before he does too much damage. After only a few months in his GPS collar, Kimani the elephant had stopped breaking fences. Years later, Kimani has still not returned to his crop-stomping ways.

Another breakthrough, which does not relate to caribou but highlights the brilliant potential for innovative wildlife management strategies, was their elephants and bees hypothesis. “Having found that elephants run from the sound of bees, in 2007, we set up a unique beehive fence line in the area to see if they would deter elephants from raiding crops. To test our hypotheses, we geo-fenced several known crop-raiding elephants to see if their behaviour changed once confronted with large concentration of bees. Thanks to the geo-fencing technology, we were able to witness and confirm that bees did in fact deter elephants from crop raiding.”

Elephant-caribou differences aside, the technology is transferable. “The real-time monitoring algorithms presented here for monitoring African elephants (proximity, geo-fencing, movement rate, and immobility) are widely adaptable and applicable to monitor a variety of behaviours across numerous species,” wrote Wall et al.

While there is considerable consensus within the scientific community about the effective use of technology in wildlife management, I have found concerning disagreement about the role of wolves in caribou declines and the impact of culling them. What follows is a literature review of sorts, of the relevant research that has been done on this subject.

Wolf Cull Literature Review

Apps et al. studied the GPS, very high frequency (VHF), and motion sensor data collected from 541 caribou over 22 years. When the collared animals stopped moving for prolonged periods researchers tracked their location and tried to determine the caribou’s cause of death. In their cause-specific mortality analysis of mountain caribou in B.C. they found that wolves are only one of many important sources of mortality for caribou. The data, though limited, indicates that wolves are not necessarily the primary killer of mountain caribou. In fact, it is possible that bears and cougars may have a stronger impact on caribou numbers. That said, I spoke to Dr. Clayton Apps about his study and he cautioned that the data should not generalized too broadly as it pertains to specific sampling cases. The wider conclusion of his work focused on caribou vulnerability as it relates to landscape changes. Wolf predation was found to be concentrated at lower elevations and areas with a higher concentration of roads, which they used as a navigational advantage when hunting.

caribou mortality graphcaribou mortality chart

 

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Credit: Stephane Alberola

On a similar theme, DeCesare’s data links industrial development with increased encounters between wolves and caribou, which in turn can lead to increased predation. Supporting that notion, other studies have illustrated the considerable impact wolves can have on local ungulate populations. Kortello et al. conducted a study that analyzed the diet and spatial overlap between wolves and cougars in Banff National Park. During their research they observed a 65% decline in local elk populations following the arrival of wolves. This shift caused cougars to switch from a primarily elk winter diet to one that favoured deer and other alternative prey options.

At this point we have a fairly clear picture of a wolf – caribou relationship that has been knocked out of whack in areas that have been altered by industrial development. Wolves eat caribou, even more so when roads and cleared forests give wolves efficient access to a larger range while simultaneously limiting caribou’s own food sources. If we have too few caribou, and too many wolves, it is easy to conclude a wolf cull would be an appropriate response. Some short term studies support that assumption. Bergerud et al. for example suggested that a wolf cull in Northern B.C. and the Yukon lead to increases in ungulate populations, but many studies do not.

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Credit: Tracy Brooks/USFWS

In an incredibly comprehensive and long term study, Wielgus et al. assessed the effects of a wolf cull on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987–2012 using a 25 year time series. The number of livestock depredated, livestock populations, wolf population estimates, number of breeding pairs, and wolves killed were calculated for the wolf-occupied area of each state for each year. Unsurprisingly, their results describe a positive association between the number of cattle in a given area, the number of cattle killed, and the number of breeding wolf pairs. In other words, as you increase the number of cows and wolves in a given area, instances of wolf-cow conflict will also rise. Incredibly, however, their data also shows a positive, not negative, association with the number of wolves culled the previous year – meaning culling wolves actually led to more livestock being killed by wolves the following year. “The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5-6% for cattle with increased wolf control” (graphed in Figure 1.). Wielgus et al., hypothesized that livestock depredation increased when wolves were killed because the cull disrupted pack structures, which in turn, lead to a compensatory increase in breeding pairs, more pups, and more hunting (Figure 2.). This trend was consistent until 25% of the breeding wolf pairs had been culled, after which point livestock predations began to decline from its elevated state (graphed in Figure 3.). As the paper stresses, however, “mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term.” As you can see in Figure 3., to get to the livestock mortality rate that you started with before the wolf cull elevated depredation levels, you would need to kill over 40% of the breeding wolf pairs. Ultimately, Wielgus et al. concluded that their results do not support the ‘remedial control’ hypothesis of predator mortality which predicts a drop in livestock following increased lethal control. “However,” they write, “lethal control of wolves appears to be related to increased depredation in a larger area the following year.”

wolves vs cattle graph

Figure 1: Wolves killed versus cattle depredated: The number of wolves culled the previous year plotted against the number of cattle killed by wolves the following year. The black line indicates that as more wolves were killed through control methods, the remaining wolves killed an increased number of cattle. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

 

wolf cull graph

Figure 2: Number of breeding wolf pairs versus cattle depredated: The number of breeding wolf pairs present in a region the previous year plotted against the number of cattle killed by wolves the following year. The black line indicates that as the number of breeding wolf pairs increases, so to does the number of cattle they kill. The dashed lines show the upper and lower limits of the 95% confidence interval for the best fit line.

 

wolf kill predation graph
Figure 3: The proportions of wolves killed versus cattle depredated: The proportion of wolves killed the previous year versus the number of cattle killed by wolves the following year. The black line indicates a 2-way negative interaction. Cattle depredation increased with increasing mortality up until roughly 25% of the wolf population was culled, then the number of cattle killed began to decline.

Echoing their conclusion from a different research angle, Brainerd et al. analyzed pooled data from 148 territorial breeding wolves and found increased movement and dispersal of wolves when the pack’s breeding (alpha) pair was removed. In other words, when you kill the alpha wolf pair who keep the rest of the pack in line, remaining wolves are statistically likely to breed more and spread into new territories. This disruption to the ecosystem is likely to trigger other changes and lead to issues to neighbouring environments.

Similarly, Treves et al. found that the removal of carnivores generally only achieves a temporary reduction in livestock depredation before other predators move in to fill their space and eat their prey. Harper et al. also found that killing a large number of wolves in Minnesota did not reduce the following year’s livestock depredation levels. They did notice, however, that a mere increase in human activity decreased the amount of hunting wolves did in the area.

Caribou Health

elk feedlot

Credit: Mark Gocke, Wyoming Game and Fish

Unfortunately, there is yet another layer of concern to add to this complex analysis; caribou health. The University of Alberta’s Center for Conservation Biology began studying this issue after the government of Alberta announced plans to cull up to 80% of wolves in the oil sands in the hopes that it would slow the rate of caribou decline. They conducted dietary analyses had found that 60% of the caribou winter diet consisted of lichen. “This food source is particularly vital to pregnant caribou as it is high in glucose, which is the primary food source to the fetus,” they wrote. If female caribou do not have adequate access to lichen, they explained, it compromises their pregnancies and lowers birth rates.

“They [the government of Alberta] argue that climate change and habitat disturbance are causing deer, the preferred prey of wolves, to move north into the oil sands. Wolves are said to increase in response, increasing the risk of predation on caribou. Our work suggests that there may be better options.”

The conservation biologists suggested that reducing human and industrial activities in lichen rich feeding grounds may be a more effective mitigation strategy than killing wolves.

“Moreover,” they continued, “owing to the preference of wolves for deer, removing wolves from the population to protect caribou could actually place the ecosystem at markedly greater risk by accelerating the expansion of deer into this ecosystem.”

The Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology has picked up on this theme too. “Caribou decline may be related to too much energy spent on just trying to stay alive,” explained national park warden John Flaa. “Over the past summer, the three caribou mortalities I investigated had no body fat, which is bound to have an effect on calf production. Census results here show that the proportion of calves in the herd are below replacement level.”

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Credit: Gary Kramer, USFWS

Accessing an adequate food supply has been an ongoing issue for elk too, especially across the border in Wyoming. Their Game and Fish Wildlife Division, however, has managed to greatly inflate herd size over the last few decades by feeding them hay every winter. Not surprisingly, issues of disease began to increase as more elk congregated at feeding grounds. As Creech et al. explained; “High seroprevalance for Brucella abortus among elk on Wyoming feedgrounds suggests that supplemental feeding may influence parasite transmission and disease dynamics by altering the rate at which elk contact infectious materials in their environment.” Thankfully, they have also since shown that spreading out feeding areas reduces cross contamination infection rates by 70%.

This is not an ideal solution, of course, but it has been quite successful in many respects. Elk populations in Wyoming are now strong enough to support hunting, an activity that more than covers the cost of the feeding program. “Elk hunters spent $49.9 million in 2012… The program cost $558 per animal and generated $1,856 in ‘economic return’ per [elk].”

Conclusion

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)

Credit: USFWS

As Dr. Adam Ford wrote in his summary paper Science, Uncertainty, and Ethics in the Alberta Wolf Cull; “It is past time that we adopt a more creative view of how we can coexist with caribou and wolves in an industrialized landscape.” After reviewing the literature available on this and related issues I agree. While this is an undeniably complex situation with a lot at stake, I think we should be doing more to learn from innovative wildlife managers around the world.

We could try creating a geo-fence between wolves and threatened caribou like conservation officers do with their problem elephants in Kenya. Or get ‘caribou shepherds’ to track GPS collared herds, intervening when they are at risk of predation; much like the ‘marmot shepherds’ who saved endangered (admittedly easier to track) colonies on Vancouver Island. We could explore the feasibility of capturing, sterilizing, and re-releasing the alpha breeding pair in a pack of wolves; thereby reducing the growth of a wolf population while keeping the governing pack structure in place. Given the above concerns about food availability for caribou, as well as the effective use of feed lots elsewhere, I think we should also consider supplementing the diets of the South Selkirk and Peace region herds with a stable supply of lichen over the winter. It would be a relatively cost effective, simple, and could potentially be game-changing for our struggling caribou.

Some of these solutions may sound crazy, but when you consider we are currently spending millions of dollars to indiscriminately shoot wolves from helicopters, I would argue they potentially offer for more cheaper and less-crazy alternatives.

Acknowlegements

We are sincerely grateful to the many scientists who made time to talk to us about their work.

Private Member’s Bill Tabled to End Trophy Hunting in B.C.

On Monday, March 2nd, I tabled a bill that restricts the practices of non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to kill large game by making two specific amendments to the Wildlife Act.

The proposed changes remove grizzly bears from the list of animals exempt from meat harvesting regulations and ensure all edible portions of game animals killed in B.C. are taken directly to the hunter’s residence.

As the legislation currently stands, it is illegal to waste meat when hunting in B.C., unless the  animal you have killed is a cougar, wolf, lynx, bobcat, wolverine, or grizzly bear. The edible parts of big game animals must be removed from the animal and packed out to one’s home, or importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat laundering opportunities. By adding “directly or through” to the clause hunters can still use meat cutters and cold storage plants to process their harvests, but it can’t end there. The meat must make it to their home address. If they want to donate that meat to charity after the fact they are welcome to do so, but they have to take it home first.

Hunters are already required to remove the edible portions from black bears, if enacted, this bill would bring meat harvesting standards for grizzly bears up to the same level.

For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed themselves and their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to bag an animal for its hide, skull, or antlers this poses a larger logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide the government with another tool to address the growing concerns about trophy hunting in our province. As with any tool the government develops, its effectiveness is entirely dependent on government’s commitment to using it as it was designed. If government were to pass this bill, but fail to enforce its provisions, or provide regulatory loopholes for guide outfitters, then its purpose will be undermined. It will be up to government to make a commitment to embracing the values that are at the heart of this Bill and using them in a meaningful manner.

This is not a perfect solution, of course, but it is an achievable step in the right direction of protecting the interests of sustenance hunters while reducing the wasteful influence of non-resident hunters who come to our province to kill our wildlife acting with disregard for its value as a food source. It is also a strong legislative move towards conserving grizzly bear populations in B.C. as it forces the government to reevaluate its outdated grizzly hunting mandate. It shows the current government that we are serious about conserving grizzly bears through working collaboratively with conservation organizations like the British Columbia Wildlife Federation, BC’s First Nations and BC’s resident hunters.

Brown bears, of which grizzlies are the North American subspecies, were once found on four continents, making them one of the most widespread mammal populations in the world. Their original range included Europe, North Africa, northern and central Asia, the Middle East, and North America. Today, they are locally extinct or endangered across the map — except in Russia, Alaska, and B.C.

According to the provincial government’s 2002 report on B.C. grizzly bears, in North America healthy grizzly bear populations once extended from northern Mexico to the Yukon, and from the West Coast to Hudson Bay. As human populations began to expand, grizzly numbers steadily declined as their habitat became fragmented, their food sources threatened, and they were killed for recreation and for getting too close to the people who were moving into their territory.

British Columbia and Alaska are the last strongholds of grizzly bear populations on the planet, though the exact numbers are contested because the bear’s solitary and roaming nature makes them difficult and expensive to study. The B.C. government estimates there are 15,000 grizzly bears in the province today, some independent scientists and First Nations groups think there could be as few as 6,000

Precise population number aside, the global trend for brown bears is clearly one that favours extinction. The Himalayan brown bear has dwindled to two per cent of its former range and there are an estimated 49 brown bears left in Italy. Mexico’s grizzlies are now extinct and the last known Californian grizzly was shot in the 1920s. The Liberal government maintains the fate of B.C.’s grizzly bears will be different, but the government’s scientific justifications for the hunt in some regions are harshly criticized by many local and international scientists.

Like Canada’s polar bears, B.C.’s grizzly bears have been listed as a “species of special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Unlike their Arctic cousins, though, grizzly bears don’t qualify for federally legislated conservation measures.

In addition to the unrelenting pressure brought by climate change, industrial expansion, and habitat destruction, this iconic species is pursued by “hunters” who come to B.C. to kill a prize bear. The importation of B.C. grizzly bear parts into the European Union has been banned for over a decade because they think the hunt is being unsustainably managed. The wealthy non-resident hunters who come to our province to buy a grizzly trophy, therefore, are predominantly from the U.S. They cut off the bear’s head, paws, and fur but leave the bodies behind to rot.

This so-called sport has been banned by nine coastal First Nations and is opposed by nearly 90 percent of British Columbians. Importantly, 95 percent of hunters surveyed in the province-wide McAllister Research poll also agreed that people should not be hunting if they are not prepared to eat what they kill.

I support sustainable, respectful sustenance hunting in British Columbia that is grounded in a science-based conservation policy. It with this in mind that I introduced the Bill today.

This bill is an attempt to bring the environmental and hunting communities together. Many urban environmentalists don’t realize that BC hunters and their supporting organizations (like BCWF, Ducks Unlimited and Fish and Wildlife organizations) are some of the most active conservationalists. At the same time, some hunters believe that most urban environmentalists are out to stop hunting. The reality is that almost everyone I have spoken with is on the same page. They support hunting for food. They don’t support hunting only for trophies. This bill supports the former and penalizes the later.

Supporting BC’s Resident Hunters

On December 10th, 2014 the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations released his decision concerning how hunting licenses would be allocated between industry and resident British Columbia hunters. After consulting with constituents and stakeholders, I released a media statement raising concerns that the interests of resident British Columbia hunters were being set aside in favour of special industry interests. A few days later, I provided a more thorough analysis of the issues involved.

On February 6, amidst widespread pressure from BC resident hunters and the BC Wildlife Federation, the government  revised its decision on wildlife harvest allocations slightly. But this was not enough.

Today, BC’s resident hunters held a rally on the Legislature lawn. I had the privilege of speaking at the rally and I reproduce the text of my speech below.

I also had honour of presenting a petition from over 16,000 British Columbians on behalf of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation today. The text of the petition is reproduced here:

We, the undersigned, representing residents of British Columbia and supporters of resident hunting in the province, state that changes to the Province’s Wildlife Harvest Allocation Policy announced in December 2014 provide an unwarranted larger share of hunting permits to BC’s professional guides and outfitters, who primarily guide non-resident trophy hunters, at the expense of BC resident hunters.

The wildlife allocation made available to Guide Outfitters Association of BC members is unprecedented in North America and there is no economic justification for these allocation changes, which will adversely affect BC’s resident hunters.

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the provincial government repeal the changes to the Wildlife Harvest Allocation Policy announced on December 10, 2014 by the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and limit non-resident hunters and Guide Outfitters Association of BC members to the Wildlife Harvest Allocation specified in the 2007 Wildlife Allocation Policy.

Finally, today I introduced my first Private Member’s Bill: the Wildlife Amendment Act. My introduction is reproduced below. We’ve written up a more thorough discussion of the implications of the bill elsewhere.


Speech at the BC Resident Hunter Rally in Victoria


I’d like to begin by thanking all of you for coming to the legislature today. I know a lot of you had to travel quite far and take time off work to be here. But I am glad that you did. This issue is too important to let it quietly slip off the public radar and I commend you for being here today; for speaking up on behalf of hunters across BC; and for realizing that the February adjustment to the allocation policy was simply not good enough. It was little more than a patronizing response to your heartfelt feedback and concern for the future of hunting in BC.

DSC_0055The erosion of hunter’s access to BC game is yet another example of government putting the needs of special interests ahead of those of British Columbians. Hunting is a foundational part of life for many people in BC. As you all know so well, it is way to connect with nature, spend quality time with your loved ones, and provide a clean, healthy source of protein for your families. Having that connection to one’s food, knowing its true value, and appreciating where it came from means that you have a profound understanding of the importance of conservation.

It has been a great honour for me to work closely with the B.C. Wildlife Federation – the province’s largest conservation organization – as I attempted to educate myself on allocation issues over the past few months.

Hunters in B.C. have had a rich history of conservation in our province, working tirelessly to ensure animal populations are healthy, abundant, and that their habitats are protected.

DSC_0059Despite running on a “families first” platform, the BC Liberal government has continued to put the vested interests of a select profitable few ahead of its own residents. In the hunting sector especially, we have seen a steady erosion of your rights as they continue to be reallocated to the guide outfitting industry.

The December hunting permit amendment may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, but the BC government has been making the shift towards prioritizing the needs of industry over its own residents for the last decade.

The government’s actions have not been guided by the values of British Columbians. Nor have they been guided by independent expert advice. The numbers put forward in December weren’t even close to the allocation splits recommended by the ministry.

What troubles me is that according to the lobbyist registrar, the Guide Outfitters Association has had over 2,000 person meetings with government officials since 2011. Quite a number of them included Premier Clark.

DSC_0062It’s clear that government has an ear to the concerns of guide outfitters.

But today and together we’re here to say to government that that’s not enough. Together we are demanding that government listen to British Colmbians, the people that they are supposed to represent.

The increased allocation of BC’s wildlife to guide outfitters is an issue that affects all of us, not just the people here today.

I look forward to tabling the BCWF petition opposing the permit allocation amendments shortly. That should help government understand just how many people care about the unfair treatment of resident BC hunters.

I will also be tabling a bill that, if enacted, would make trophy hunting for non-residents more difficult by requiring them to remove the meat from their kills and transport it back to their home address.

For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed themselves and their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. in search of antlers or a hide this poses a larger logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.

It is not a perfect solution to our problems, of course, but it will make the government engage in a conversation about where their interests lie and emphasize the importance of supporting sustainable, respectful hunting practices in our province — practices that are embodied by BC’s resident hunters and the BC Wildlife Federation.

Thank you.

Victoria-Poster2


Introduction of the Wildlife Amendment Act


I move introduction of the Wildlife Amendment Act for first reading.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this bill that, if enacted, would restrict the practices of non-resident trophy hunters who come to B.C. to kill large game by making two specific amendments to the Wildlife Act.

The proposed changes remove grizzly bears from the list of animals exempt from meat harvesting regulations and ensure that all edible portions of animals harvested in B.C. are taken directly to the hunter’s residence.

As the legislation currently stands, the edible parts of big game animals (except cougars, wolves, lynx, bobcats, wolverines, and grizzly bears) must be removed from the animal and packed out to one’s home, or importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat laundering opportunities. By adding “directly or through” to the clause, hunters can still use meat cutters and cold storage plants to process their harvests, but it can’t end there. The meat must make it to their home address. If they want to donate that meat to charity after the fact they are welcome to do so, but they have to take it home first.

Hunters are already required to remove the edible portions from black bears. If enacted, this bill would bring meat harvesting standards for grizzly bears up to the same standard.
British Columbians, and in particular BC resident hunters, support these change. A 2013 McAllister Research poll found that 88% of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting. In addition to that, 95% of hunters said they believe you should not be hunting if you are not prepared to eat what you kill.

For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to kill an animal only for its hide, skull, or antlers this poses a logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.

I look forward to second reading of the bill.

I move that this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House.


Bill 27 – The Cultus Lake Park Amendment Act

It may seem odd that I would rise today to speak in favour of The Cultus Lake Park Amendment Act which resides in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope (MLA Laurie Throness), but I was contacted by a number of constituents who had summer homes in the area. This is what prompted me to examine this legislation more deeply. Below is the text of my speech.


While the member for Chilliwack-Hope is probably wondering what the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head is doing standing up to speak in favour of the Cultus Lake act, I will add that I had a number of constituents who e-mailed me specifically about this act because they have summer homes in Cultus Lake. They pleaded with me to support this act. I’d like to read one of the e-mails that I received from the constituents. It said as follows:

“We are two of your constituents who have a summer home at Cultus Lake. Currently the residents of Cultus Lake Park do not have a democratic election process. Residents can only vote for two of seven politicians who represent them. By you voting yes for this bill, it will make a considerable improvement in democracy and accountability for the Cultus Lake Park, thus improving the future sustainability for this wonderful area, which is enjoyed by thousands of B.C. residents every year.”

Now, of course, as soon as an e-mail mentions the word “sustainability,” my ears perk up, so I took some time to explore this bill further.

The Cultus Lake Park Amendment Act takes an important step forward in the lead-up to the 2014 municipal elections to ensure that the residents of Cultus Lake are adequately represented in their government. The act would change the number and composition of representatives from the current structure of seven representatives, two of whom are Cultus Lake residents, to the new structure of five representatives, three of whom are Cultus Lake residents.

By increasing the representation of local residents, this bill will further empower those residents to sustainably manage a park that is enjoyed by so many British Columbians, including residents from the Oak Bay–Gordon Head riding here on southern Vancouver Island.

I, too, would like to thank the government and the member for Chilliwack-Hope for his work to bring and introduce this bill forward, and I very much look forward to supporting its adaptation at second and third readings and committee stage.

Bill 4 – The Park Amendment Act – What Next?

Tens of thousands of people in BC have voiced their opposition to the recent passing of Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act. They are demanding its repeal because of fears around industrial development taking priority over the protection of our most significant areas of ecological diversity and natural beauty. I share many of their concerns.

The Problem with Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act.

The Park Amendment Act is a controversial piece of legislation that now allows the BC Government to issue park use permits for activities that are not necessarily related to the mandate and purpose of our BC parks. The Act allows for permits to be issued for two general categories: film production and research.

Previously, for a park use permit to be granted the applicant had to prove that the activity, for which they required the permit, was necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved. Bill 4 changes this.

Now, the Minister of the Environment has the ability to issue permits that fall under the vague and undefined term “research” for any type of “feasibility study” for any kind of “prescribed project”.

Without any limitations on what these studies or projects might entail, without any guidelines for how the studies or projects are to be assessed, and without defining the term “research”, the Act, in essence, can allow for a park use permit to be issued for virtually any type of activity. The language is so vague as to be utterly meaningless. In theory, I could sip a beer while watching Hockey Night in Canada and qualify and call this research as part of a ‘feasibility study’ under this Act. Conversely, exploratory drilling could also fall into this category.

To be fair, there are regulations within the Ministry that do define the term research, and there are guidelines over assessing what kind of activities are to be allowed in BC parks. However, they are not law – they are regulations, and they can be changed by the ministry without any public consultation, public debate, or public scrutiny. The passing of Bill 4 means that the law protecting our Parks has been weakened, while the ministry has increased its power and adopted a “trust us” approach.

It is also important to acknowledge that, under the existing Park Act, no major industrial project can actually occur within a protected area. If a major project wants to cross a park, the general practice in BC allows for proponents to propose a boundary adjustment to a park in order to accommodate their project. This proposal then is reviewed by the ministry and if a park boundary is to be changed it must be passed in the Legislative Assembly.

Bill 4 doesn’t change that. It simply allows research permits to be issued to conduct a “feasibility study” on a “prescribed project” (a pipeline or a road for example). This doesn’t mean the project will go through, and it doesn’t mean the research will be benign, but it does signify that industry might be able to get an earlier foot in the door towards applying for a boundary adjustment change, and may invest significant capital in doing so.

Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the underlying motivation for this Bill is the fact that a number of BC parks are facing possible boundary adjustments in order to accommodate major industrial projects. Under a Freedom of Information request submitted last year, the Ministry of Environment released which parks stand to be affected by certain projects. For example, the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion alone is expected to affect nine provincial parks and will require significant boundary adjustments to at least three of these parks. Furthermore, given the BC Liberals push for natural resource development, it’s no surprise that so many people are suspicious of this Act, and are worried that its purpose is merely to expedite industries application process.

Holding the Government to Account

When it was introduced, Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act, clearly did not have the social license to proceed. The proposed changes caught most people by surprise, major environmental groups condemned it, and the Bill was strongly opposed in the Legislature.

Working with the official opposition, I spoke against the Bill, highlighting the concerning and vague language used as well as the lack of public consultation and support for instituting these changes. I proposed that before passing in the House, the Bill should at least go to a committee review stage, in order to give the government time to build up the social license needed for this bill and to address the many concerns voiced. I also proposed amendments to the Bill, including adding a definition for “research”, as a way of trying to ensure that the Bill did not undermine the mandate and purpose of our Parks. Unfortunately, these were defeated by the government.

What Happened in the House 

Despite being given opportunities to engage the public, and despite the public outcry, Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act, received royal assent on March 24, 2014. In defending the bill, Honourable Mary Polak, the Minister for the Environment stated that “the intention of this amendment is to provide the legal statutory certainty for the granting of research permits, commercial filming permits, that we have granting but have been advised that we do not have sufficient legal certainty in order to proceed as we have.” She assured the house that the 30-page Park Act still “contains all the guidance necessary to ensure that we don’t have mining in our parks, that we don’t have drilling for oil in our parks, that we don’t have major industrial activities taking place in our parks”. As British Columbian, our job is now to ensure the minister is true to her words.

Should we be concerned?

At roughly 14 million hectares, British Columbia has the third largest park system in North America (second only to the federal parks system of Canada and the US). Over 14.4% of the province is protected under the Parks system, and over 90% of British Columbians have visited a provincial park at some point in their lives and 60% regularly visit at least one park each year.

Over the last 10 years our parks have undergone 44 boundary changes totaling roughly 811 hectares of lost park land. Although only 8 of these changes were for proponent-based projects (industrial projects), the rest being largely administrative in nature, this number accounted for almost 70% of the total area removed from our parks. Clearly, although they only account for a small number of total adjustments, the proponent-based industrial projects are the ones that have the biggest impact to our Parks.

Equally important however is that this is a relatively small amount of land when it is taken in the context of 14 million hectares that are protected. In addition, just a few weeks ago that number was increased by 55,000 hectares.

The good news is that even though this Bill does allow for research permits to be granted, possibly for major industrial projects, the park boundary would have to be changed before the project itself could be approved. For our provincial parks, any boundary change has to come through the legislative assembly. And here, at least, there is an avenue for public attention and debate to occur over a park boundary change. You can be assured that I will be closely monitoring any future park boundary changes.

Bill 4 is a piece of legislation that is far too vague and gives too much power to the ministry. It clearly did not have the social license needed and continues to face strong opposition. If used inappropriately the Bill has the potential to undermine the legislated protection of our Parks. For these reasons I opposed its passage in the house, and will do whatever I can to ensure it is not used to abuse the underlying purpose of our Parks (as detailed in the BC Parks Mission Statement):

BC Parks is committed to serving British Columbians and their visitors by protecting and managing for future generations a wide variety of outstanding park lands which represent the best natural features and diverse wilderness environments of the province. 

The Next Steps

I’ve tried to lay out a balanced and fact-based approach to this legislation. You can read why I opposed the Bill here and what I said in a subsequent post here.

I hope that this post helps people to understand this issue, its complexity, and the importance that will now be placed on ensuring that every boundary adjustment is transparent and fully understood so that our park system remains protected and continues to serve the interests of British Columbians.

If you are concerned about this Act, here are some options available to you:

1 – Sign a Petition

Some groups have called for an appeal to this Bill. It can be found here.

2 – Write a Letter

The minister has explained that this was essentially a housekeeping Bill — one that gave the ministry the legal authority to do what it had already been doing. However, my main criticism of this Bill, aside from the use of incredibly vague language, is that it clearly did not have the required social license to move forward. If you share this concern I would encourage you to write to the minister about your views on the process, and how in the future the government needs to first engage in public consultation, before imposing such a controversial bill. Please provide me with a cc of your letter so that I can speak to your concerns in the future.