What is now HCTF began as the Habitat Conservation Fund (HCF) in 1981. The original HCF was the idea of anglers, hunters, trappers and guides who wanted to increase their contribution to the preservation of species and habitats across BC. These resource users have always “paid their way” through license sales, but wanted to make a more direct investment in conservation by way of an additional license surcharge. In response to this idea, the HCF was established by the BC government with the goals of enhancing BC fish and wildlife populations and acquiring key fish and wildlife habitats.
Revenues were primarily collected from surcharges on hunting, angling, guiding and trapping licenses. The Fund’s Public Advisory Board (PAB) made recommendations as to how money was spent, but final expenses were ultimately approved by the Minister. Administration of the Fund was via the Ministry of Environment and, later, Environment, Lands and Parks, with financial expenditures controlled through the Treasury Board. The Fund quickly grew, and concerns were raised about ensuring that those increasing revenues would be used for their intended purposes, rather than being redirected to other areas of Government.
In 1997, a bill was tabled to create the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, with much support from license user groups. The proposed trust fund would share the goals of the original fund, but expenditure limits imposed by the Treasury Board would be removed: this meant that expenditures from the trust fund would match annual revenues, and all of the funds would promptly find their way to good conservation projects. The PAB would continue to be responsible for recommendations regarding the use of the fund, but the Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks would be Trustee. This important change meant that HCTF was now a self-administering stand-alone entity within government, with a budget independent of any ministry’s annual expenditure targets.
Ten years later, 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 decisions as to how trust fund money would be spent. This new 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.
To date, more than $155 million has been invested through the HCTF with incalculable benefits to wildlife populations. New stream channels have been created to expand fish habitat. Rare desert and grasslands have been purchased to help preserve some of the most threatened ecosystems in the province. Winter rangeland has been protected to help conserve wild sheep populations. Inventories have been conducted to help ensure that biologically distinct populations of lake trout are managed properly so that they can be fished in a sustainable way to the benefit of local communities, and new generations of threatened and endangered species such as burrowing owls have been raised in captivity and reintroduced to their environment. Through the Foundation, the vision of conservation pioneers who recognized anglers, hunters, trappers and guide-outfitters as stewards of BC’s fish and wildlife has been realized, and the continued success of HCTF will ensure their legacy will be enjoyment of these resources for generations to come.