The fish and wildlife enthusiasts requested that government impose a small tax on coal and lumber exports that could be used to fund work benefitting BC fish and wildlife. Though the ministers were supportive of the idea of a special conservation fund, they felt an additional tax on resource industries would be unpalatable.
Instead, a volunteer surcharge on angling, hunting, trapping and guide outfitting licences was proposed, a concept that would be promoted and refined until its incorporation into BC’s Wildlife Act in 1981. At the same time, additional discussions between resource users and senior public servants resulted in a commitment to match annual licence surcharge revenue from the province’s Crown Land Account for the purpose of purchasing ecologically-sensitive land to protect fish and wildlife habitat. At the BC Wildlife Federation AGM in May of 1981, Minister Stephen Rogers announced the creation of the Habitat Conservation Fund “for acquiring, protecting and enhancing key fish and wildlife habitat…” using licence surcharges, Crown Land Account contributions and donations from other user groups. It was understood that the new fund did not have a legal or judiciary role in the protection or management of fish and wildlife populations or their habitat. Instead, it would play a critical role by investing in nature conservation projects that supported a broad range of government stewardship activities. The slogan “An Opportunity for Wildlife” was used to promote the new fund.
- First Year of Operations
The allocation for the 1981-1982 fiscal year was a mere $750K and was directed at a handful of restoration and enhancement projects led by government staff. This first budget was an advance against expected revenue of $1.5M from licence surcharges for the same period. The original surcharge amounts were $2 for BC resident angling, hunting, trapping and guide outfitting licences, and $5 for non-residents. Some clubs associated with the BC Federation of Naturalists (now BC Nature) assessed a $2 fee on members and donated it to HCF in the spirit of new surcharge policy.
- Public Advisory Board
An important strength of the new fund was its Public Advisory Board (PAB), which was responsible for making recommendations to the Minister of Environment on how fund monies should be spent. When the HCTF was announced, Minister Rogers had promised that the fund would be “as independent as possible from political interference” and he was true to his words. Chaired for the first 19 years by Canada’s “father of conservation biology” Ian McTaggart -Cowan, a small but effective group of users and scientist appointees developed policies and procedures to ensure technical and financial accountability. This gave the new fund instant credibility, and the leadership of the PAB provided a solid framework for much of the Foundation’s work today.
- Evolution to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund
Through the 1990s, licence surcharge revenue going into the fund outpaced expenditures for conservation work as HCF was subject to Ministry budget restrictions. There was growing concern among contributors that these “surplus” revenues might be redirected to other areas of government instead of being used for their intended purpose.
In 1997, a bill was tabled to create the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, with much support from contributors. The proposed trust fund would share the goals of the original fund, but would be free of the expenditure limits imposed by government Treasury Board. This meant that the trust fund expenditures would match annual revenues, and all of the funds could promptly find their way to good conservation projects. The shift also allowed non-government proponents to apply for funding.
- Transformation to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation
In 2007, the Wildlife Act was again amended to make the Trust Fund entirely independent from government. These changes shifted trusteeship from the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection to a newly established Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. Governed by a Board of Directors composed of stakeholders with a variety of expertise, the Foundation was now empowered to make its own decisions as to how trust fund money would be spent. The Board of Directors worked with government to further refine the governance model for HCTF. One of the first objectives of the new Foundation was to seek charitable foundation status from Revenue Canada, and this was achieved in the summer of 2008.
- From Fund to Foundation to Future
The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has grown from the initial $750K investment in 1981 to providing over $7 million annually for conservation projects across BC, funded through a variety of sources. HCTF continues to increase its conservation impact as it works towards a future where freshwater fish, wildlife and their habitats are healthy and valued by all British Columbians. You can read more about the Foundation’s achievements here.