As B.C. hunters packed rooms to protest regulations giving guide-outfitters and their out-of-province clients a larger share of big-game permits, the provincial government argues that the shift is being exaggerated.
The latest increase in the share of guide permits to hunt moose, grizzly bear and other restricted animals in limited-entry hunting areas of B.C. totals 618 "hunting opportunities" across the province per year, says a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Based on the success rate of hunts for different species, "this model represents a transfer of approximately 186 animals from residents to guides."
The B.C. Wildlife Federation's estimate that the wild game allocation policy could result in 5,000 fewer hunting permits for resident hunters under limited entry hunting rules is "not accurate," the ministry says.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said in an interview he made the decision on the latest allocation after a long consultation where the BCWF and the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. couldn't agree. The decision was to provide certainty for guide businesses, but also took away guides' rights to pool regional game allotments and hunt in vacant guiding territories.
"There are arguments over the number, depending on which base you use, and I expect those arguments will continue," Thomson said. "At the end of the day we all want the same thing, which is healthy wildlife populations."
BCWF hosted hunter meetings in Kelowna and Langley this week, and spokesman Jesse Zeman said hunters were lined up out the door in Langley. He said the latest changes are part of a longer-term shift going back more than a decade that has seen a loss of harvest share for resident hunters.
B.C. hunters are concerned that the share reserved for guide-outfitters is now higher than anywhere else in North America. Under the latest policy, that share is 20 per cent for elk, 20 or 25 per cent for moose depending on the restricted region, 35 per cent for mountain goat, and 40 per cent for grizzly bears.
Open season areas for moose and other animals remain in the southern Interior and northeast, where anyone can buy a license and tag to hunt. Abundant species such as mule deer, whitetail deer and black bear have no hunting quotas in any part of B.C.
Zeman said for prized species such as Roosevelt elk on Vancouver Island, winning a resident tag in the lottery is rare enough to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As hunter numbers rebound, they increasingly face the choice to aim for another species, drive long distances to an unrestricted region, or hire a guide.
The latest changes include returning Kootenay bighorn sheep to a general open season for guided hunting. The restriction that only full-curl rams can be hunted remains in place.
Thomson said the population will be closely watched, and harvest limits returned if necessary. Zeman said the BCWF is concerned that this iconic Rocky Mountain trophy could once again be over-hunted.
The popularity of hunting in B.C. continues to increase, from about 81,000 licences issued in 2003 to more than 100,000 last year, which means more resident hunters are losers in regional hunting lotteries.
BCWF compiled statistics for moose, the most popular big-game target. Moose populations have declined in some areas while both applications from resident hunters and the share reserved for guides has risen.
In 2005 there were 56,000 applications for moose, with only one out of five successful. By 2013, there were nearly 67,000 would-be resident moose hunters, 54,000 of whom were refused a moose tag.
Harvest restrictions for guided hunting have been removed for bighorn sheep in the Kootenay region, after a decline caused by over-hunting. (Image credit: Alan D. Wilson/Wikimedia Commons)