Hunter Harvest Surveys – Your Questions Answered Here
One of the tenants of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation states –
Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy.
In order to manage wildlife as a shared resource fairly, objectively, and knowledgeably, decisions must be based on sound science.
Sometimes critics of North American Model suggest that that the regulation of hunting is not based on science because not all the information wildlife managers use to regulate hunting is based on peer-reviewed scientific studies that are published in scientific journals.
Well, that is not what the North American model means.
Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy means the people involved in wildlife management will conduct and/or consider published scientific studies whenever they can. The science tenant also means that wildlife management in North America runs on a framework where wildlife professionals are trained in science and they employ principles of the scientific method in their day-to-day work to generate objective and defensible data on which analyses and decisions can be made.
This is what responsible hunters mean when they advocate for science-based wildlife management.
Science-based wildlife management needs hunters and hunters often play a key role in providing the raw data for science-based decision making. One such critical role is the hunter harvest surveys that responsible hunters complete and return each year after hunting season.
I recently interviewed the biometrics staff within the Wildlife and Habitat Branch in the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development to learn more about how the hunter harvest and Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) harvest surveys form part of science-based decision making in wildlife management in British Columbia.
Question: How are hunters selected for the harvest survey return questionnaire?
For the HS [hunter harvest] survey, we randomly select hunters who have purchased either a basic or species licence. The sample rate for the HS survey varies depending on species (black bear = 34%, moose = 40%, caribou = 100%, etc.).
For the LEH [Limited Entry Hunting] survey, 100% of hunters who have won an authorization for moose, elk, mule deer or bison will receive a survey. Again, both the HS and LEH survey are sent on the same survey instrument (paper or now, new for 2020, an email that facilitates hunters submitting online).
Question: How is the number of surveys that are sent out determined?
For the HS survey, the number of surveys sent depends on the number of people who have purchased a basic or species licence and the species-specific sample rate.
For the LEH survey, the number of surveys we send each year depends on how many LEH authorizations we issue (more issued moose authorizations = more surveys, for instance).
Question: What is the minimum number of returns that are needed for valid survey results?
Generally, a ‘valid survey results’ can be measured by precision, or the width of the 95% confidence interval. Wide confidence intervals indicate less ‘confidence’ in the estimate, while more narrow confidence intervals represent a better result. There’s no hard and fast rule for what is a ‘valid survey result’. Generally, if there is a specific conservation or social concern over harvest rates, wildlife managers have the option to use compulsory reporting or compulsory inspection to contribute to their understanding of harvest for that species.
Question: What is the return rate? (i.e., the percentage of hunters that complete and return their survey)
This is species dependent, but generally between 50 and 60%.
Question: Do the hunter harvest survey returns provide an estimate of the game harvest or the exact size of the harvest?
Survey results provide an estimate. This means that we try to select a representative and random sample of the entire hunting population, ask them about their hunting activity and use that information to ‘estimate’ the hunting activity of the entire hunting population. If 50% of our random and representative ‘sample population’ reports killing an animal, we estimate that 50% of the entire hunting population harvested an animal.
Question: Are hunter survey questionnaires sent out randomly or is it targeted to where the hunter lives (i.e., Region 4).
We stratify the hunting population by 31 geographically distinct ‘residence areas’, then randomly sample hunters within each residence area. Sample rates are also species specific, meaning we can set sample rates based on residence areas and species.
Question: How are the hunter harvest survey data used in wildlife management?
Survey results feed into many decision-making processes, but they’re most commonly used to determine previous season harvest levels so regional biologists can adjust next season’s harvest levels, if needed. If the survey shows higher than expected harvest rates for a given species, decision makers can opt to shorten GOS seasons or reduce the number of issued LEH authorization. This is why it’s so important for hunters to fill out their survey. The more responses we receive, the more confidence we have in our estimates and this allows for more informed wildlife management decisions.
Question: Would it be better (I.e., know the exact number of animals harvested) if it was mandatory for every hunter to file a harvest return by the end of the year via a smart phone app or on their FWID profile?
Generating a random and representative sample of the entire hunting population, and then using these returns to estimate the hunting activity of the entire hunting population, provides estimates that are sufficiently accurate for wildlife management needs for most species. Where more information is required to manage a population of animals, mandatory reporting in the form of compulsory inspection or compulsory reporting is used.
Question: Can the harvest questionnaires be done online?
The survey can be submitted online. In 2012 we built a web-based survey submission application and included instruction on how to use the application with the paper survey. For 2020, we asked all hunters who purchased a basic licence if they’d like to receive an email with a link to the online survey submission application. Anyone who chose the email option was not sent a paper survey in the 2020 survey cycle. Approximately 50% of hunters chose to receive an email.
Question: Why is it important to submit a harvest questionnaire if you get one?
Many hunters don’t realize that it’s important to submit their survey, even if they didn’t hunt. You could imagine a scenario where only hunters that did hunt submitted a survey. Our sample population would then be made up entirely of hunters that did hunt, and we would then estimate that everyone who bought a licence hunted, when that’s definitely not the case. The other reason it’s important for everyone who’s sampled to respond is precision. The more people in the final sample population, the more confidence we have in our estimates and this informs better decision making.
For more information check out the BC Resident Harvest Questionnaire FAQ
Cover photo Copyright (c) Iva / Adobe Stock