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LETTER: Never forget about the plummeting wild deer populations

The recent government announcement that 117 complaint cougar were killed by the conservation service the last fiscal year once again highlights the biggest threat to the future of the province’s wildlife resource is wildlife managers in Victoria.

The announcement should have also made the point that the deer the cougar’s primary prey species has plummeted in numbers province wide. The only pockets of healthy deer populations left in our province are in urban areas and private property where hunting is not allowed. When the cougar hunts in the immediate proximity of people it is hardly surprising that cougar complaints have increased dramatically.

All ungulates have a tough struggle to survive hard winters; predators, road kill, land alienation and when hunting opportunity crosses the line with liberal hunting seasons ungulate populations collapse.

The following are stories from credible hunters that compliment the 40 clips from hunters on our web page; or I want to get an additional 20 clips from hunters and then it will be time to see what is possible with West Coast Environmental Law.

Scott McKenzie who has a guide/outfitting business east of Vernon tells me he bought a guide-outfitting business because of the lifestyle but hates it now! He accurately makes the argument that literally every deer is counted to justify hunting seasons. I asked him if the cougar sightings and complaints last spring in the Vernon area were a result of the collapse of the deer population. He confirmed that was the case and stated that he picked up a few road kill deer and dumped them in an area a cougar was hunting. I asked him what percentage he figured the deer have declined. His response- you cannot justify hunting them. I asked what geographical area he was referring to and his response was the north Okanagan. He also made the case that the whitetail buck season is so long that there are few bucks to breed does so subsequently does are bred so late that the fawns have a tougher time surviving winter.

Mike McDonough recently sold his outfitting business in the Chilcotin. Mike was a diminutive guy who always wore a ten gallon hat. I found him interesting because he had a master’s degree in literature. His immediate response to the moose and deer populations was a blunt “they are gone”. He was also adamant that the problem was natives and wolves. Mike was also adamant that clear cuts and roads were not the problem which I find hard to believe.

Stuart Maitland is an active outfitter and operates in the Wells Grey Park area. I didn’t get much information from Stuart but he does admit the mule deer population has been hammered. The major problem- large clear cuts. Stuart is a trapper and the buzz at the Trapper’s Convention this year was the collapse of pine martin populations driven by the ever increasing number of large clear cuts province wide.

Clarence Schneider who is a rancher located in Cawston which is east of Keremeos bought his guide area in the early 80s which his son Daryll now runs. I asked Clarence what percent decline he has witnessed in the deer population in his time. He said the deer population was down 70% and then he paused and said “no on  South Slope and Crater Mountain the two large wintering slopes for the deer we used to count 300-350 on each slope and to-day we are lucky to count 30-35 on both”. I asked him if the whitetail population had declined dramatically as it has on their historic range province wide thanks to the four year 3 week whitetail doe deer season. His response “on my property I still have approximately thirty-five whitetail because I don’t allow hunting. Clarence’s quote underscores the obvious to anyone who has had a long journey observing the behavior of stakeholders connected to the province’s natural resources- 5% if we are lucky will speak strongly in defense of responsible management.

Clarence is the second outfitter in southern B.C. to state that the black bear population is down. The black bear population is certainly down in the Grand Forks area. The biggest threat to black bear and grizzly populations in southern B.C. from Manning Park to the Alberta border traditionally has been the periodic failure of their primary food source- the black huckleberry. In the Boundary the huckleberry crop was a total failure in 1986 and 1998.

Unfortunately today the black bear, like other animals, has to square up with a BC Liberal Government who has consistently proven they have no respect for the province’s wildlife resource. The point is well made in an article that appeared in the Province newspaper titled “Managing Bears July 27, 2014.

The following quote appeared under the title, Complaints are costly for government and homeowners; “The Ministry of Environment reports the BC Conservation Officers Service spends more than 1 million dollars each year responding to complaints as well as destroying or relocating bears. Bears also cause property damage for homeowners whom the government estimates at another several hundred dollars yearly”. This is just another example of a government that has consistently refused to respect wildlife. How many bears and birds have died because they were lured to a vineyard? How many complaints would come to nothing if complainants knew there would be a public process to vet the credibility of the complaint?!

Aaron Stekia, a First Nation outfitter from Oliver who hunts California bighorns in the Oliver/Okanagan Falls area like all credible hunters has witnessed a steep decline in both whitetail and mule deer numbers. Aaron also stated the obvious that where he hunts deer he sees more elk sign than deer. Without the elk in the Boundary hunting participation would collapse in the immediate future.

Aaron is also one of my contacts that I have asked to help facilitate a meeting with Chief Louie from Osoyoos and Grand Chief Steward Phillip from Penticton for the purpose of forming a  coalition of First nations, Environmentalists and credible ardent hunters to challenge the BC Liberal Government’s agenda that puts no premium on our wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Paul Blackwell from the Lac La Hache area is an ardent trapper and hunter. Anyone in BC connected to the BC Trappers Association knows Paul. We connected when we were school teachers in the early 70s.

The buzz from this year’s Trappers Convention was the collapse of pine martin populations because of the never ending large clearcuts. I asked Paul if the trappers were proactive defending the habitat critical to furbearing animals. Specifically I asked him about Mike Morris, the former RCMP member who owns a trapline and was elected in the 2013 provincial election as a BC Liberal in Pat Bell’s former riding in Prince George.

Paul made the point that MLA Mike Morris and the BC Trappers Association have made presentations to government and the media defending the integrity of traplines that have consistently been rebuffed by the timber companies who have complete support of the BC Liberal government. The point was reinforced by a current news sound byte that claimed BC Timber companies recently sold over 5 billion dollars of lumber products. I assume that is a year end total.

Paul and I agree that the biggest wildlife management fiasco is wildlife population estimates by bureaucrats in Victoria that have no connection to reality. Many of these estimates are an irresponsible fabrication but the urban wildlife phenomena have insulated wildlife managers from the hell that is there due.

Reg Collingwood and his brother Ray have operated a guide/outfitting business north of Smithers since the late 70s in the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park area. The Spatsizi Wilderness Park is one of British Columbia’s largest and most significant Parks. Reg is a pilot so his perspective on wildlife populations is an accurate measure of what is happening in Northern BC. Reg said he thought wildlife populations are down 40% and like 3 other outfitters I have talked to cannot believe the outrageous demands for more hunting opportunity by BC Wildlife Federation members.

Stone Sheep permits have been increased to a total of 110 and the BC Wildlife Federation wants the total increased to 220. Respect for the species is now zip/zero! Although Reg and I didn’t talk about the caribou I am told by a credible source that Reg told him the caribou population was down 90%. The hunting pressure is dramatically increasing in northern BC as wildlife populations collapse in the south.

Reg asked me if I thought the BC Liberal Government’s wildlife agenda was an industrial agenda. The evidence I continue to present British Columbians certainly makes you wonder if destroying wildlife populations is not a political agenda designed to reduce criticism of the fanatical agenda of increasing economic activity on our land base regardless of the negative impacts. If wildlife populations are dramatically reduced then in time there would be less criticism of irresponsible agriculture, logging and mining practices!

The argument is further strengthened when you consider the hallmarks of good government programs- transparency and accountability are totally non-existent.

The last hunting story in this newsletter is the most interesting and insightful. Dave Fyfe who operates a guide/outfitting business in Campbell River area on Vancouver Island was in Grand Forks helping my son with his bighorn sheep hunts.

One of the bighorn sheep hunters was Mike Babcock, the coach of the Detroit Redwings and Canada’s Olympic gold medal hockey coach. Everyone in camp had a good look at Mike’s gold medal and ring. Mike Babcock, Dave Fyfe and I had one thing in common; all of us started our working careers as school teachers.

The interesting thing about Dave Fyfe is that when I hear him talk about the sorry state of wildlife management province wide I hear my own echo. His contacts tell him what my contacts tell me; the province’s wildlife resource has been ruthlessly exploited. The BC Liberal Government’s hunting agenda explained on page 2 of the Current Provincial Hunting Regulations is obviously much bigger than increasing hunting opportunity and jobs- another story for another newsletter.

I asked Dave to describe the Vancouver Island blacktail deer population. His response was far worse than I expected. A biologist told him the blacktail deer were headed for extinction on their historic range. The deer count is in the order of one deer per kilometer, I assume that is per square kilometer! In other words the Blacktail deer on their historic range are in the same trouble as the whitetail and mule deer on their historic range.

In closing I remind you that I speak for myself. I do not speak for my son who owns Granby Guides & Outfitters Ltd.

I am no fan of the Guide Outfitting Association of BC and less so of the BC Wildlife federation. I am an independent voice who is trying to connect with every British Columbian regardless of political stripe or hunting bias that cares about the province’s wildlife resource.

Barry Brandow