After five years of talks, B.C. hunters and guide-outfitters will likely hear this week how the province plans to divvy up their quotas for big game.
At issue is the estimated $6 million guide-outfitters expect to lose every year under the current quota system—a more than 10 per cent drop in the industry that would hit especially hard in the local Skeena hunting region and wipe out some of the smaller guide-outfitters here.
Scott Ellis, general manager at the Guide Outfitters Association of BC, said government was surprised when GOABC members told the natural resources ministry that its new policy would cost them so much business.
“Government was saying that it’s not their allocation policy—it’s the changes in the dollar and the world economy,” Ellis said.
To resolve the issue, the province hired retired senior civil servant Chris Trumpy to take an independent look at the issue.
After studying the impact of past U.S. recessions and Canadian dollar swings on B.C. guide-outfitters, Trumpy found that GOABC was more or less correct.
“He said the majority of the impact is the allocation policy, and if you want to remedy it, here are 11 things that will help,” said Ellis.
How many or how far the province will take those 11 recommendations is something both hunter groups are anxious to see.
Until 2003, wildlife managers in B.C.’s eight hunting regions had some leeway to set hunting quotas specifically for their area.
While the system worked well for a while, it began causing headaches.
According to Trumpy, some regional managers gave hunters and outfitters “special deals” that sparked major conflicts between resident hunters and guide-outfitters.
To fix that, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations negotiated for three years until all sides agreed in 2007 on an allocation policy that applies evenly across all B.C. regions and big-game species.
Unfortunately, Ellis said, it was only after that new policy was phased in that GOABC members could see the $6 million a year they stood to lose by it.
“What I think government found was that in each region, there was a lot more variability than they thought,” he said. “And when you try to shove on a once-shoe-fits-all, it doesn’t fit anybody properly.”
A revised allocation plan was due Nov. 25, but Minister Steve Thomson held it back for further review.
Al Martin is a director at the B.C. Wildlife Federation, which represents 38,000 of the estimated 90,000 resident hunters in the B.C.
He said the revised allocation, which will last five years, is worth the wait.
“If it takes a little bit more time to make a good decision, we will certainly support that,” said Martin.
Already, he added, Minister Thomson has told him the new plan will include a boost in funding for biologists to wildlife inventories.
That will take some pressure off the whole issue, he added.
“Managers tend to restrict the harvest in the absence of information,” Martin said, adding that more accurate wildlife numbers could mean higher quotas for all hunters.
But Ellis said guide-outfitters are facing extra pressure to quickly find out what the new allocation will be.
“In 30 days, our guys are going to be going to one the biggest trade shows and right now we have no idea what our quota is,” he said, referring to a Jan. 5 hunting show in Dallas, Texas. “There is enormous anxiety.”
According to 2003 data, the most recent available, B.C. hunters collected about $186 million in annual revenue.
In 2002, the 240 licensed guide-outfitters in B.C. collected between $32 and $47 million.