VICTORIA - Camouflage-wearing hunters set up camp Monday at the British Columbia legislature in an attempt to shoot down big-game hunting quotas they say wrongly favour guide-outfitters and rich out-of-province hunters.
Roughly 300 hunters pitched a tent at the legislature and their cheers were accompanied by duck calls and the howls of their hunting hounds. Many hunters carried anti-government placards with slogans such as Hands Off My Meat and Resident Hunters First.
Hunters from B.C. are angry about the province's plans to update its big-game quotas, which would increase the number of animals allocated for non-residents at the expense of those who live in the province.
The protesting hunters immediately gained the support of politicians from all three opposition parties — the New Democrats, Greens and Conservatives — who lined up to attack the governing Liberals.
"This policy reduces opportunities for resident hunters and increases opportunities for non-resident hunters," said Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan.
"Let's start with B.C. first."
The provincial government said of the more than 49,000 animals harvested annually in B.C., about 7,550 are big game animals that are controlled through an allocation system. Of those 7,550 animals, 6,200 are allocated to B.C. hunters and 1,350 to non-resident hunters.
Under the new allocations, 6,140 animals would go to resident hunters and 1,410 to guide-outfitters — essentially adding 60 to the guide-outfitters' allocation while taking the same number away from resident hunters.
When the quota changes were initially proposed late last year, the province planned to shift more than 100 animals to the guide outfitters. The numbers were amended to the current proposal last month.
The government said the new quotas are fair and balanced and were the result of years of ongoing talks with hunters, wildlife organizations and guide outfitters.
Horgan said resident hunters are concerned the government is offering non-resident hunters more than their fair share of opportunities to hunt big-game animals such as elk, moose, bison, big horn sheep and grizzly bears.
Four separate petitions calling for changes to the quota allocations and signed by about 20,000 people were tabled in the legislature.
Green party Leader Andrew Weaver also introduced a private member's bill that he said would support B.C. hunters while killing the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.
Conservative party Leader Dan Brooks, a former guide-outfitter who remains an avid hunter, called for a complete overhaul of the hunting quota system to ensure B.C. hunters are given top priority to hunt all species of animals.
"Folks, this is our hill to die on," he said.
Brooks said his 11-year-old daughter shot a moose in 2013 and he wants to ensure all British Columbians retain their rights to hunt.
Steve Thomson, the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, said he has always been willing to meet with hunting and wildlife groups, and he said he's made changes after hearing their concerns.
"I have listened and we have made strategic adjustments," he said. "I think we made a balanced decision."
There are more than 102,000 resident hunters in B.C., up from 82,000 a decade ago, the ministry said.
The government says B.C. has about 245 licensed guide outfitters who employ more than 2,000 people and serve about 5,000 non-resident hunters each year, generating about $116 million annually in economic activity. Resident hunters create about $243 million in annual economic activity.