Is it time for a moose tax?

Faced with declining game populations and the increasing complexities of wildlife management, people are starting to look at new funding models.

And a tax to help moose and other game animals might be one way to go.

A few years ago, in response to growing concerns that British Columbia’s moose numbers were in decline, the provincial government conducted 20 population surveys. The results were troubling. While in some places numbers were stable, in many regions moose numbers had declined by 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

Word quickly spread among the hunting community about which areas held the fewest moose, and soon there was a pile-on in regions that still had good numbers. That caused alarm in some First Nations communities, where people saw outsiders coming in to shoot moose that local families needed for winter food.

Some aboriginal hunters responded to the dwindling amount of moose by abandoning cultural practices. Instead of only harvesting bulls, they started shooting cows.

All of this, of course, combined to make the situation worse.

In response, the province launched a five-year moose study, which is expected to provide valuable information on the reasons some moose populations are crashing. Hunting is just one factor; logging practices in the wake of the pine beetle epidemic and a proliferation of resource roads are also thought to be contributing causes.

But B.C. isn’t waiting until the study is complete to act. Last week Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson announced he is putting $1.2-million into moose management immediately.

That expenditure came in response to a report by consultant Al Gorley, who outlined the need for broad policy reforms to help restore moose populations.

In a statement, Mr. Thomson said the government would act on all 21 recommendations made by Mr. Gorley, a registered professional forester with Triangle Resources Inc.

Many of Mr. Gorley’s proposals were so general that it is hard to imagine anyone objecting to them. Such as one that calls on government to adopt a policy goal “that recognizes the importance of moose to British Columbians.”

But embedded in some of Mr. Gorley’s recommendations are options that, if adopted, would cause fundamental changes to the way wildlife is managed in the province – and to the way that management is funded.

For example, in addressing the problem of moose being killed in train and vehicle collisions, Mr. Gorley notes some stakeholders “have suggested a compensation program, whereby a fee would be paid for each animal killed and the money invested in wildlife management.”

That could be a significant amount. Data on wildlife strikes is inconsistent, but one study of a 200-kilometre stretch of railway between Telkwa and Smithers found about 500 moose were killed over a five-year period. Extrapolated across the province, that could be thousands of moose lost.

Mr. Gorley also points out that not all industries provide “compensation funds” when their activities damage moose habitat. BC Hydro makes such payments, as do some natural gas projects.

But Mr. Gorley states that “moose population enhancement objectives [should be] applicable to all industries.”

Such compensation payments wouldn’t amount to a direct tax, but the result would be much the same, with more money flowing from industry into wildlife management.

The BC Wildlife Federation goes a step farther in a paper in which the organization calls for a tax on “outdoor recreation gear,” which would broaden the funding base to non-hunters.

The BCWF also points out that while hunting licences and fees bring the province $14.5-million, only $2.6-million of that is dedicated to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which funds fish and wildlife conservation projects. The BCWF wants all those hunting licence fees to be spent on wildlife.

“Nearly every jurisdiction in North America has a dedicated funding model for fish and wildlife management: BC does not,” the BCWF states. “BC needs a new, innovative approach to wildlife management which is financially stable, and results based.”

New taxes are never popular. But in B.C., a wildlife tax would likely find broad support, especially if it helped produce more moose.