Stop just counting wildlife and take action: BCWF Executive Director addresses the B.C. Finance Committee 

4th Session, 42nd Parliament 

Thursday, June 8, 2023 

JESSE ZEMAN: My name is Jesse Zeman. I’m the executive director for the B.C. Wildlife Federation. With over 41,000 members, and 100 clubs across the province, the B.C. Wildlife Federation is the largest and most active conservation organization in British Columbia.  

Additionally, I recently completed some graduate work related to sustainability and funding for wildlife management. That will tie in nicely to the committee’s role here. 

Over the past generation of British Columbians, our fish and wildlife have gone from abundant to in-decline. Some are At Risk, some are Endangered, and some are now extirpated. You all know about the declines and the associated costs with recovering mountain caribou. The same is true for Interior Fraser steelhead, which have gone from thousands to hundreds to an estimated 19 individuals in the Chilcotin River in 2022. Moose generally are in decline, as are mule deer and sheep in parts of the province. 

It takes orders of magnitude more money to bring a species back from the brink than it does to manage it routinely. The most fundamental issue B.C. faces is a lack of funding for our land, air, water, fish and wildlife. Since 1993, B.C. has reduced the proportion of the provincial budget spent on these resources by over 75 percent. In fact, 2022 appears to be the worst year on record with just over 1 percent of B.C.’s budget being spent on conserving our natural resources. 

On the fish and wildlife management side, British Columbia spends fewer dollars per person, per species and per kilometre than our neighbours to the north, to the east and to the south. Between 1954 and 1994, B.C. cut the proportion of funding for fish and wildlife management by over 85 percent as we added millions of people and millions of threats. These cuts have gotten us widespread declines in fish and wildlife, record-setting wildfires, and floods that are now costing British Columbia and British Columbians billions of dollars per year. 

I am going to ask you for two things today. The question is how do we fix it? We can dedicate and increase license fees and fines. We will never fix this problem by hoping that general revenue will be properly distributed, and there are plenty of British Columbians who are willing to support a move in the direction of dedicating license fees and fines. 

The Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition makes up over 25 member groups in this province, 900 sustainable businesses, and over 273,000 British Columbians who want to see license fees dedicated for the sustainability of fish, wildlife and habitat. That includes hunters, anglers, guides, bear-viewers, ecotourism from one end of this province to the other. 

Additionally, the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition recently sent letters to the province to triple the fines under the Wildlife Act. There’s an easy $700,000 to $800,000 a year that would be dedicated. 

The licensed hunter moose harvest in this province has plummeted from over 12,000 per year in the 1970s and 1980s to just over 4,000 by 2018. My graduate work on moose hunters demonstrated a tremendous willingness to pay if license fees were dedicated and changes to wildlife management occurred. 

The current license fee is $25, of which $5 is dedicated to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. If license fees are dedicated, hunters would be willing to pay $114 for that same license, nearly a fivefold increase. Restoring moose to historical highs would mean an increase of up to $200 per license, and changes in governance would be anywhere from $65 to $124 per license. We’re talking about orders of magnitude of change that people have in their pockets that they want to give to you.  

The BCWF is also a founding member of the Watershed Security Coalition. In 2023, the province dedicated $100 million. We need $200 million more. We will help you match it with the federal government, and we will find another $200 million from private investors. 

We would like to see $200 million put into fish and wildlife conservation immediately. All resource projects should be required to contribute back to conservation. If you make money off the land, you put money back into the land. The approach of dedicating funding has the ability to increase funding levels by orders of magnitude, and we can make it bigger. 

If you move it outside of government, we can leverage it. The B.C. Wildlife Federation, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Ducks Unlimited — we all take $1, and we turn it into $4, easily. Sometimes we turn into $10 or $15. 

In 2017, the B.C. Wildlife Federation started the Southern Interior Mule Deer Project with $5,000. It is now the largest collaborative wildlife research project in B.C.’s history and has turned into a multi-million-dollar project, with two PhD students, over 1,300 volunteers and funders from government foundations, clubs and individuals going to the province. In addition to that, (we attracted) millions of dollars worth of volunteer time. 

So, by dedicating, increasing and leveraging funding, we can restore fish and wildlife, take care of our natural resources and prevent people’s houses from being burned down and flooded out. 

MLA MIKE STARCHUK (Chair): Jesse, thank you for your presentation this morning. I think when you talk about the fines, it would be just…. It would be a better society if we never had to issue one. I have to say that right off the rattle. But when you talk about tripling fines, what other jurisdictions come close to that amount? 

ZEMAN: I’ve got reams of data. We undervalue fish and wildlife everywhere we go in this province. So, I can just go into the compensation program, which is through B.C. Hydro. We spend about $5.6 million in our 30 percent of the Columbia Basin for compensation. In the United States, in Bonneville … they’re going to spend over $500 million (in the Columbia Basin). So, we’re talking two orders of magnitude. The reality is that when we look all around us, B.C. does not take care of fish and wildlife. 

This would be the same as health care and education. If we didn’t fund health care and education, we would have a bunch of people that couldn’t get jobs and didn’t live very long. That’s exactly what we’re doing to fish and wildlife in this province. 

TOM SHYPITKA (Deputy Chair): Thanks, Jesse. I’ll try to dive into this conversation here a bit. Thanks for all the work you do. You wear many hats. You’re on many different organizations. 

You mentioned the Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition. We’ve got representation in British Columbia, from bear viewing to guide outfitters to the Sierra Club. You name it. It’s on there. Nothing like a crisis that brings these people together, and you’re leading the charge. So, thanks for everything you do. 

You talk about funding, independent funding. It would be great if we had a private member’s bill, maybe, perhaps, that would identify something like that. I’m sorry. I’ve got to plug it again. 

It would be great to leverage that money through that type of forum, and I totally support it, 100 percent. 

You say “undervalue.” I don’t think we put any value, to be quite honest, on our fish and wildlife. A $200 million ask. If that was placed into an independent model, what do you think you could leverage that $200 million into? You said, four times. 

ZEMAN: It depends on the projects. We have projects that start at $5,000 and go to $2 million to $3 million. So generally speaking, we can take one direct dollar and turn it into four relatively easily if it’s something that people are passionate about. 

That mule deer project I talked about: We just had volunteers process 2.6 million camera trap photos all over the province on our behalf. There are people all over this province, hundreds and thousands of them, that are so committed that they will sit in front of their computer for 20 to 30 hours a week or drive… We have over 150 camera traps in the whole southern Interior of B.C. 

People do volunteer. They take their vehicle out and put 5,000 or 6,000 kilometres on it to move camera traps because the ministry doesn’t have the funding. So, there is huge passion in British Columbia to recover these resources and everyday citizens who are willing to give their time and money. We need a way to facilitate that. 

MLA BRUCE BANMAN: It comes as a shock to some people. How could someone that wants to go hunting actually care that much about wildlife and, as you say, spend thousands of their own dollars to help us do our job better? If you could…. How many of the hunters and fishers, fishing licenses, that you’ve talked to…? 

What was the percentage of those that you encountered that are more than willing to spend that kind of money just so that we can get better management of our wildlife? 

ZEMAN: That was my graduate work just recently, around moose. They said that just by dedicating it — just dedicating it, never mind any other changes — on average, people would be willing to pay $114 for a license that is currently $25. 

BANMAN: What was the percentage of those you asked, though? 

ZEMAN: That’s the average. There are people on either end. There are people that are going, “I’ll pay $500 or $700 for a moose tag if it goes back to the resource,” and there are people on the other end. So that’s the mean. The average person is saying: “I want you to increase this 4½ times over what the current price is, but it has to be dedicated.” 

SHYPITKA: One last question. The funding is one thing. Money. You can throw a lot of money at it. We hear this all the time. What needs to be done legislatively to put the value on wildlife so that it doesn’t get overburdened by other types of acts: Water Sustainability, environment act, all that kind of stuff? What needs to be done? 

ZEMAN: That’s the next question. You set the money up, then it goes into science, monitoring, research and on-the-ground actions. Counting stuff does not make more stuff. I think that’s the big message, right? Government is really good at counting stuff and watching it decline. That’s what we’ve done for the last 40 years. The other piece is that you set legislative objectives that require, compel the province to actually act. 

We talk about the Interior Fraser steelhead. There are 19 fish in this river that people from all over the world used to go to angle. First Nations have a major interest in and the province, quite frankly — it’s same with the government of Canada — is nowhere to be found. It’s a major crisis. Legislation helps that. 

Related Posts