Springing for Draws and Budgets

[Note: The following was first published in the May 2017 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2017 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.

Spring is here and—along with the green grass, colourful flowers and warm rain—come our hopes for the coming fishing and hunting seasons. Planning is an important and often enjoyable part of any fishing or hunting trip and the annual draws for licences require people to start planning well ahead of their trips. As well, spring is the time for governments to table their budgets for the coming year. These documents can tell you much about what might be in store for future hunting and fishing opportunities.

If you are a veteran of the hunting draw process, you most likely know what you want and how to apply. But if you are new to the process or otherwise confused by it all, then you need to do some careful study of the draw booklet that will be out this month.

Two additional documents from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) you will find helpful are the Draw Summary Report for 2016 and previous years and the Hunter Harvest Report for 2015 and earlier. The draw report will tell you the popularity of a specific licence in a specific Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) and your chance to be drawn for it, based on your current draw priority. The hunter harvest report will tell you your probability of bagging an animal in a specific WMU once you have a licence for it.

2017-04 Meredith-DrawHarvestReports

The Hunter Harvest and Draw Reports from previous years provide some valuable information.

Although both reports provide important information that helps you make your choices, such information should be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt.” The Draw Summary Reports provide accurate information about the previous years’ draws. All the data comes from the draw process itself, so accuracy for the specific year is not an issue. However, there are two “wild card” variables that should be considered when using that information to make a decision about what will happen this year. The first one is the number of licences allotted for a particular species in a WMU. AEP can change that number from one year to the next, depending upon the management goals for that species in that WMU and what they’ve learned from population surveys and other issues.

The second variable is the number of hunters applying for that licence in the WMU. One can assume the number will be relatively the same from year to year but there is no guarantee it will. Hunters change WMUs for a variety of reasons and it’s difficult to predict how many will apply for a specific WMU. So, the fact that a licence got drawn with a certain priority one year does not guarantee it will be drawn for that priority the following year.

The Hunter Harvest Report is a bit less reliable than the draw report because it’s dependent upon hunters voluntarily reporting their success or lack there of. The report assumes hunters will be honest, and that’s probably a fair assumption for the most part. However, I’m sure there are many who either don’t bother to make a report or who have a problem recording they were not successful. Ego is a funny thing, especially with regard to hunter success. We don’t like to admit we didn’t fill a tag, even if we’re just ‘talking’ to a computer program.

Another issue is a hunter will sometimes report success when it wasn’t he or she who shot the animal but someone else in the hunting party who also reports the success, double counting that piece of information. All of the above skews the data, and so the “grain of salt” rule should apply.

The draws are an important part of getting a licence in the coming hunting seasons, but one should remember there are many general (“over-the-counter”) licences available. So if you do not get drawn, there are still opportunities. The question is how long will those opportunities last?

Provincial Budget
Spring is also a time for governments to table their budgets for the coming fiscal year and Alberta is no exception. This is the NDP government’s second budget and there is much controversy about the planned deficit and continued spending. I’m not a fan of spending more than you earn but I also know the government provides crucial services that require sustained funding. So, I can understand both sides of the argument, and am glad I’m not the one having to make the decisions.

However, it always amazes me how some people complain about government over spending while at the same time complaining about their pet projects not getting enough tax payer money. Such could be argued for the March 21st Alberta Fish and Game Association news release with regard to the Alberta budget and the money to be spent on fish and wildlife. The release correctly states the Alberta Government will spend $44 million on fish and wildlife in the next fiscal year, or 0.08% of the government’s total expenses (or 4% of AEP’s total expenses). Yes, a small sum in the grand scheme of things, but what the news release did not mention was the budget for fish and wildlife in 2016-17 had been $24.5 million. So, in reality the government has almost doubled the budget for 2017-18.

Perhaps a better comparison would be to look at a budget from pervious years, perhaps when there was still a Fish and Wildlife Division. My last year working for the division was 2002. The Fish and Wildlife budget for that year was $40 million dollars or about $53 million in 2015 dollars (www.measuringworth.com). But one must remember that the latter budget included expenses for the Enforcement Branch of the division that was moved to Alberta Justice and Solicitor General in 2011. So, the $44 million budgeted for 2017-18 could be a significant increase indeed. However, “the devil is in the details.”

2017-04 Meredith-AEP-BudgetExpense_edited-1

The annual budget documents provide some general insight into what is to come.

According to the budget Fiscal Plan 2017-20, the $44 million for 2017-18 will be used “for fish and wildlife including support for provincial woodland caribou management and recovery and the containment and management of whirling disease detected in Alberta in August 2016.” Not a lot of detail. As in the 2016-17 budget, there is little mention of management for game species, except perhaps on the revenue side where fishing and hunting licence sales are expected to marginally increase. Perhaps the AFGA news release should have focused more on these issues.

And where was the AFGA when last year’s (2016-17) budget was released? That’s when hunters, anglers, conservationists, etc. should have complained about fish and wildlife’s low budget. But there was hardly a peep from any conservation organization, let alone the AFGA. Maybe the other (non-AFGA) groups were quietly lobbying behind the scenes to get more things done for biodiversity and threatened species that resulted in the increase in funding for those areas this year…?

And back in 2012, when the Fish and Wildlife Division was quietly dissolved, the AFGA likewise failed to publicly complain, despite the fact that it had been the main driver for the creation of the agency back in the early 20th century. Is the paradigm shift away from consumptive use of fish and wildlife the consequence of such failures? Perhaps, but it does appear the AFGA is a bit late to the table for discussing budgets and conservation. Maybe they will catch up this year…?

Comments are always welcome (below).

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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