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Monthly Archives: July 2014

deer-7

In Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF, formerly the MNR), has been under fire for (lack of) accountability into how it manages its Special Purpose Account (SPA). The SPA is the money generated by revues it gets primarily from the sale of hunting and fishing licences, money that is earmarked for management of natural resources. This money was never meant to replace dollars from general revenue, but was supposed to be a supplement to it.

But things aren’t really working out as planned, at least not according to those who aren’t running the show (http://www.oodmag.com/news/mpps-call-accountability-mnrf/).

These type of accounts always run into trouble in governments. Money is always problematic, and everybody has their own idea how it should be spent.

Part of the problem is that when things are rosy (e.g., when populations of harvest-able species are high and licence sales are high), fish and wildlife agencies are awash in cash. But when populations plummet, and licence sales decline, revenue dries up. Unfortunately, it’s when things are bad when the need for money is usually most critical. Which means revenue sources like the SPA work precisely in an inverse relationship, with respect to need. SPA funding did decline in actual dollars in 2014 from 2013. Given the hard winter (2013-14) and the fact moose tags have been reduced, and deer seal sales will also likely decline, there’s a good chance SPA funding will decline again in 2015. That’s a big reason why MNRF is looking for new sources of revenue.

Of course, that’s not the only problem.

It seems to me there is a large problem with accountability and transparency as to how SPA money is spent.

I looked at how funding was reported for the SPA for the years 2011 through to 2014, as shown in the hunting and fishing summary booklets, and saw that every year funding categories changed. Also note that these dollars are not adjusted for inflation.

Program 2011

$65.7 million

2012

$68.2 million

2013

$72.3 million

2014

$70 million

F&W Services 19% 11% 35%
Field Operations 25% 21%
Enforcement 14% 19% 19% 22%
Applied Research & Development 12% 7% 6%
Science & Information 10% 10% 9%
F&W Policy 8% 15% 12%
SAR/Endangered spp 9%
Other 3%
Great Lakes 17%
Regional Operations 19%
Outdoors Card & Licensing 11%
Planning, Policy & Regulatory 30%
Safety Education & Promotion 5%
Species & Ecosystem Science 19%
Population Health, Rehabilitation & Enhancement 13%

Plus, in 2012, there was only ‘Applied Research’ (no ‘& Development), F&W Policy became simply Policy, and in 2014, Enforcement became Conservation Officers and Enforcement. Which means the columns may not be reporting the same things as they were before.

So in short, money (at least SPA funding) is short and in decline, it’s hard for anyone to see where the money is spent, and darn hard to compare year to year funding. Given the deficit of the Ontario government is billions of dollars, savings need to be found and the biggest and growing expenditures are for Education and Health, both of which are unlikely to see expenditure reductions, it’s hard to paint a rosy picture when looking at F&W management in Ontario. Especially given the movement away from managing harvestable species (which pay the bills) to other things, like SAR (an expenditure that is no longer explicitly listed; but on-going surveys for the likes of caribou, whip-poor-will, bobolinks and a myriad of other species with no licensed harvest, are certainly are being done and cost big bucks).

At best, it will be interesting to see whether MNRF provides some clarity soon as to its future management priorities, and where anglers and hunters fit into that picture.

 

 

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purplefinch-1

Earlier this year I had an article published in a local cottager magazine on ‘soft mast’, otherwise known as wild berries (as opposed to ‘hard mast’, like nuts and acorns). Mostly on how important berries were for wildlife, and the fact that many are also quite tasty for us humans. Although there are many different species of wild berries in our neighborhood, many are uncommon, or at best, not well known by most people.

One of the reasons why many wild berries don’t seem to be abundant is that when wildlife is having a good year, the berries are eaten by something as they ripen, or even before. So people don’t see them. And it’s only when berries are super-abundant – like blueberries often are – that there’s a reasonably good chance for us to reap the bounty of the harvest.

Biologists know how important berries are for wildlife, and in Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (they changed the name recently from simply Ministry of Natural Resource, or MNR) tries to keep track of the relative abundance of soft and hard mast. It’s just a guess based on staff observations, but as an indices of abundance, it serves its purpose.

We’ve been watching a few bushes of serviceberry (also known as Saskatoon berries; botanists call this shrub Amelanchier) in our yard this year because they have a good lot of berries that have been mostly disease free and were coming along nicely. Alas, the other evening a family of purple finches descended on them and in about an hour munched all the berries that were starting to show some colour. Good for the birds.

Fortunately, from my perspective,  I’ve found a couple of places where there are serviceberries, pin cherries and blueberries all together and in abundance, so it looks like the preserves in our household will be getting a boost, regardless of what takes place in the yard.

I like that!

 

Neva-2

Neva, our recent addition to our pack of Wachtelhunde’s, is growing rapidly. Close to twice as big as in the photo. She’s a smart dog, but does get into a lot of trouble.

My friend Gerhard (he likes to be called Gary) Gehrman and his wife Irma dropped by the other day to see Neva and show us their new little female Wachtel. She’s a month or so younger than Neva, so she is somewhat smaller. But Gary already has her calmed down. I tend to have troubles keeping my dogs from being ‘overly exuberant’ around people, at least until they’ve gotten a little older.

Training is going OK, but it’s not without its challenges. Because of wolves (they are still numerous, and hungry – a few  people in the area have recently reported their pets have been taken by wolves and others have had close encounters – we have been keeping Neva on some sort of leash whenever she is out of the house. When she’s on the long leash, it’s hard to keep her from getting tangled up in the trees and brush, but it’s not a problem doing fetching and searching and finding and whatnot, because we do that in the field. The problem is that at some point I have to start letting her run without any leash, and trust she won’t run off (and get lost, or eaten by wolves). As puppies, Heidi, Brill and Dory all ran off at some point, usually chasing game. Eventually they did come back, with the exception of Dory, who was picked up twice by other people, once, several kilometers from home. It was on her last run when she broke her leg, although that was the result of a genetic defect we were initially unaware of. It’s a long story, but the fact is Dory has never been able to be a hunter because she’s ‘physically challenged’. And Brill has been too old and crippled up to hunt for four years. Neva’s the BIG HOPE.

Gary is letting his little Wachtel run with Edsel, his older dog, when he rides his quad. He does worry about the wolves as well, and he did say she was taking off after game (grouse, mainly). I don’t have the confidence in my training – while Gary is trained as a professional  dog trainer. Just have to keep at it, I guess.

Seeing as it’s just about the middle of July, Lil and I have less than 2 months of training to go before the opening of the local duck hunt on Sept.10. When I took Brill out on her first hunt on the opener, about 15 years ago, she retrieved my limit of ducks, which I think was 8. That will be hard to match.

ruffed grouse-143

Yesterday I was out checking our game monitoring cameras and was pleasantly surprised with the number of ruffed grouse broods encountered. We ran into six different broods, which is a lot. Brood size was hard to tell, as the poults were as small as a tennis ball, to big sparrow size. Even the smallest ones had some ability to fly, although most just scurried away and hid in thick vegetation. Most times we only saw three or four, although once we counted six. I’m sure the four days of cold and rain we just had resulted in some mortality, but even if brood size isn’t huge, at least there seems to be a lot. Out grad student says he and his assistant have been seeing 4-5 ruffed grouse broods every day, so it certainly seems like numbers are up. I guess the adults came through the winter in good condition – grouse don’t mind the cold as long as the snow is deep and fluffy, which it was.

Interestingly, none of the hen grouse did their classic ‘I have a broken wing’ routine. They did do a lot of mewing and caterwauling, but none of that fake broken wing stuff they are noted for. And none attacked me either, which has happened to me in the past.

At any rate, for those of us who like to see, hunt and eat ruffed grouse, 2014 just might be a banner year in northwestern Ontario.

ringnecks-1

After 4 days of high winds and rain, this morning was nice and sunny. It’s been great weather for ducks, if ducks indeed like miserable, rainy weather. The mallard brood as of yesterday, had 9 ducklings, which is what I thought it was from the start, but when I looked closely at my photographs, she had 10 to begin with. A loss of one in over two weeks isn’t bad.

There are a number (3 or 4) hooded mergansers on the pond, but no sign of ducklings. From what I’ve read, there should be young by now. As hoodies are early nesters, the long cold winter, which made for a very late spring, might have been a big negative for the hoodies. All the mergansers appear to be females, and as it’s known that the males leave breeding grounds early (they’ve been gone for a while now), that greatly limits the opportunity for mating (for obvious reasons) if initial nesting attempts are futile.

I have some hope for the pair of ring-necked ducks still on the pond. They have stayed together as a pair, which is a good sign. And although, like the hoodies, there are no ducklings as yet, there’s a good chance that eggs (if the nest is still there) will hatch over the next few days. My biggest concern is that the rising water levels in the pond in front of the house – courtesy of heavy rains and hard-working beavers – flooded out the nest. Time will tell.

No sign of the goose family, who left several days after the goslings hatched.

I have also seen a ruffed grouse with a brood twice, so it could be the same brood or there are two. Lots of insects for the poults to eat, but the wet and, over the past few days the cold (it was only plus 4 C this morning), could wreak havoc.

I have never seen the mosquitoes as bad in this area as they are this year. In dry years, they are almost non-existent. Some mornings this year I think I’m going to get carried away by them. I suspect it will be a bad year for the West Nile virus. Yay.