British Columbia’s resident hunters are in the fight of their lives. December 2014 saw the BC government award guide-outfitters a share of wildlife that is unprecedented across North America, given resident hunter demand. While most jurisdictions give 5-10% of hunting opportunities to non-residents, BC now gives non-resident hunters, or more importantly guide-outfitters who have exclusive rights to guide non-residents, 20-40% of the allocation. This comes at a time when the number of resident hunters is up over 20% in the last 10 years to 102,000; over the same time non-resident hunters are down 30% to 4,500. This also comes at a time when resident hunters’ most important allocated species, moose, are faltering across central BC. Not only is the pie shrinking, so is resident hunters’ share of that pie.
The December changes are a result of years of government lobbying by the Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC). GOABC has been an extremely effective lobby group. Mark Werner, past-president of GOABC, has stated the organization “is considered by many in government to be the top lobby association.” The organization has consistently lobbied to increase its share of wildlife, as well as reduce resident hunter hunting opportunities, particularly for meat-and-potato opportunities such as “any buck” and “spike-fork.” GOABC has also lobbied for administrative and legislative change to increase guide-outfitter “viability.”
A few of these include:
Allowing corporate ownership.
Allowing foreign assistant guides.
Wildlife Act changes to allow guide-outfitters to harvest in excess of their quota.
The impetus for the December changes were GOABC’s claims of economic hardship due to the implementation of the 2007 Wildlife Allocation Policy. The policy was created to ensure a fair, transparent and equitable policy. A 2010 freedom of information request revealed GOABC claimed an $8.8M loss due to the 2007 policy. In 2013 government initiated a review of the economic impacts of the 2007 policy.
The review compared the period of 2002-2006, pre-2007 policy, to 2013, to understand the impacts of the policy. The 2002-2006 period was used as the baseline for this report. The 2002-2006 period coincides with three significant factors which biased the outcome of the review in favour of guide-outfitters.
Guide-outfitters share of harvestable wildlife was at an all-time high. After years of lobbying, one-offs, and inconsistent policy application, guide-outfitters were at the high water mark in terms of wildlife allocations.
The global economy was relatively strong. As most non-resident hunters are foreign, non-resident demand is a reflection of the global economy.
The Canadian Dollar was at historical lows.
Guide-outfitters compete in a global economy and hunts are priced in US dollars.
A low CDN dollar allows outfitters to discount prices and/or maximize profit.
Throughout this period guide-outfitters had access to more wildlife, and more demand by non-resident hunters than any other period. Despite the biased nature of the report, based on the guide-outfitter harvest in 2002-2006 the maximum economic impact was $3.7M, less than half of what was claimed by GOABC.
Despite a biased process, and findings which were significantly less than claimed, Fish and Wildlife Branch staff recommended changes to the allocated splits favouring guide-outfitters. In the December decision the Minister went one step further, usurping recommendations by government staff, and gave guide-outfitters even more wildlife.
Government has rationalized these changes due to concerns about the outfitting industry viability, however in many cases the increases in wildlife allocation are to outfitters who were never impacted by the 2007 Wildlife Allocations Policy. These changes were nothing more than a transfer of a public resource from British Columbian’s and resident hunters to private interests. This issue is much bigger than the allocation of wildlife between resident hunters and guides.
British Columbia’s guide-outfitting industry was created to bring in foreign dollars, which would create wealth and jobs for British Columbians. The economic spin-offs would create a positive impact for the non-hunting public. In 2015, we find an industry which has lobbied its way away from its intent.
Since 2006 there have been numerous cases of guide-outfitters giving moose tags to friends and family, or selling them at significant discounts to resident hunters to make it appear the resource is being used. Legislative changes which allow non-residents to own and work in outfits across BC mean the jobs and economic rent, or profit, leaves BC. Non-residents and British Columbians alike have now purchased some of the guide-outfitter territories as private hunting reserves. As a result, the benefits of guide-outfitting to the public are beginning to dry up. The industry is changing from an economic generator to a public resource that has been privatized.
Anglers should be concerned with this as issue as well. The provincial government continues to push increased restrictions on gear, and catch and release which discourages youth recruitment to stream fishing, while rod days for guides are on the rise. Steelhead populations which are in historic lows on Vancouver Island will faced increased pressure from private interests to reduce British Columbians access to those fish. While anglers do not have to apply to a lottery draw where 40% of the harvest is given to guides, neither did resident hunters until 1976. Will the day come when an angler shows up to his favourite river only to be told his fishing day has been sold to a non-resident?
The threat is real. British Columbia’s anglers, hunters and conservationists have generally been apathetic to these small changes. Today, we are seeing the cumulative effects of decades of small changes in favour of private interests. Resident hunters’ ability to hunt and harvest wildlife is being given to guide-outfitters to subsidize an industry.
British Columbia’s conservationists are going to have to band together if they want future generations to have the same access to the resources they enjoyed. Your kids’ and grandkids ability to access fish, wildlife and wild spaces depends on today’s anglers and hunters. Don’t let them down.
The following table demonstrates the government recommendation, which represents an all-time share for guide-outfitters, and the Minister’s decision, which is even higher.