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restoration

moose-5

Wildlife has been in the news quite a bit recently.

Some of it has been revolving around Parks Canada and worries about a suspected onslaught of visitors this summer. Then there was the good news story about the return of bison to Banff. There’s bound to be a continued focus on Canada’s national park system as Canada celebrates its 150th Anniversary since Confederation.

Moose made it to national radio one morning on ‘The Current’ (see – http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/the-current/segment/11611043). The show managed to mix in some cultural relevancy and worrisome declines in Canada’s moose population. It was Ontario focused, although a moose expert from British Columbia provided the western perspective and there were light ties to national implications.

The moose story got rolling when the Wildlands League, a chapter of CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society), put out a press release calling on the Ontario government to ‘ban’ the hunting of calf moose by licensed hunters (here’s a link to their site –  http://wildlandsleague.org/project/moose/).

A slew of articles, interviews and broadcasts that followed were basically successful in discussing the fact that in Ontario, as well as some other parts of Canada, moose are in a steep population decline. Mentioned, but much less discussed, was how in other parts of Canada, moose are thriving. But whatever, there are concerns about what needs to be done to address moose decline. Exactly what should be done, though, has become the bigger problem.

Legal, but largely unregulated night hunting by Aboriginals, often called jacklighting when it’s done by poachers, also made the national news.

In this case it was mostly because the new Premiere, Brian Pallister, suggested the night hunting that has been going on in the province, particularly in the agricultural south-west, was in danger of inviting a ‘race war’. The progressive press was quick to pick that up and race and identity instantly became the story. The problem of night hunting – elk, moose and often big, trophy whitetails – was sort of lost in the kerfuffle with calls on the premiere to apologize for his incendiary, comment grabbing headlines.

Still, Dr. Vince Crichton, who’s in the midst of this milieu, tells me there are many Aboriginal people, including Chiefs, other leaders and elders, who want and know that something needs to be done. Apparently, the Premiere is also committed to finding a solution.

For the courts, using a 10 million candle power spotlight to light up a field to let one shoot game with a scoped, high-powered, centre fire rife is okay, as long as it’s done in a safe manner. That’s because they’ve made rulings that such a practice respects Aboriginal Rights as specified in the Constitution, in part because the practice is consistent with traditions and appeases spiritual needs.

Night hunting as a traditional practice is legal in most of Canada, although it isn’t allowed in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

In Ontario, small game hunting was in the news, but only if you looked for it. Ontario had a EBR posting on small game management proposals that ran until about the end of January, with some of the proposed ‘actions’ to be implemented as early as this fall. That’s means it was on the internet and the public was consulted by being invited to comment on the proposals.

One thing that caught my eye was a proposal that would see the whole province (every WMU) with a 10 pheasant a day limit, with no restrictions on sex, and all that during a very lengthy season.

Obviously the provincial wildlife managers have sided with the deep ecologists, and don’t want to expend time and effort trying to manage an ‘alien, invasive species’ just so hunters can pursue them. Because pheasants aren’t native, they ‘don’t belong’ here and getting rid of them, or at least making sure there’s next to no chance of having a self-sustaining population, is just the right thing to do. It’s one step towards the restoration of the landscape and ecosystem in southern Ontario that was in place in the pre-colonial days.

Not everyone agrees with that approach. But managing for hunters is unlikely to be a priority for the ruling Liberals, who are foundering in the polls, facing an election and trying to boost their popularity.

So Ontario has problems with small game as well as moose. Hard to say what they might do.

All in all, an interesting past couple of weeks; I’ll need to see what happens next. There’s sure to be at least some changes in the weeks and months ahead.

antelope-1

These days you hear and read a lot about how government departments, agencies and other businesses are making decisions that are based on science. They call it ‘science, or evidence-based’ decision making. Like most of what you see or hear, there’s a kernel of truth there, but often not much more than that.

Since this is a blog about wildlife, I’m going to limit my comments to that subject. But if you think about what’s going all around you with respect to social, economic and other matters, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion. In other words, a lot of talk, but not much walk.

Back to wildlife. . . I’d like to see the science behind a ruffed grouse daily limit of 5, possession limit of 15 . . . because there is none. Studies done decades ago that concluded hunting has little impact on grouse numbers have long been debunked. Hunting does have an impact, especially where the landscape is highly fragmented, hunting pressure is on the high side, and predators abound – like much of southern Ontario. Ruffed grouse numbers across a large swath of the south of this province have been poor for years, but daily bag and possession limits are the same everywhere, and seasons are long (interestingly, they’re the longest in the south! I guess the philosophy is there are so few grouse and the birds are so wily, you need a lot of time to chase after them, especially to have the hope of bagging enough for a hearty meal).

If we go to the opposite end of the spectrum (biomass wise) you get a moose season (again, in Ontario) that has virtually unlimited calf hunting (everyone who buys a moose licence can hunt and kill a calf, although the magnitude of this problem was sort of recognized and the length of the wide open calf moose hunt changed last year. Now, the wide open moose calf season is only two weeks in duration across the core of the moose range, as opposed to the 11 weeks it used to be). But cow moose, even if they accompanied by a calf, can still be hunted during the ‘general’ moose season. Here’s an instance where the science has shown that orphaned calf moose have little chance of survival in areas where wolves are common (and wolves are common over almost the entire moose range in Ontario), yet the science is given short shrift. It’s no way to address declining moose populations.

So instead of really getting at the heart of the issue (i.e., reducing or eliminating the harvest of cows and calves where moose populations are severely depressed, and not letting bulls be killed prior to the rut – which is also going on), the management solution that’s set to be implemented is to ease up on wolf hunting restrictions, hoping a higher wolf harvest will lead to fewer wolves, less predation, and therefore more moose. That might work, but again, the scientific evidence that it will, is darn skimpy. Working against the plan is the fact that in the past, when wolves in Ontario could be hunted with no limit (under the new proposal, the season limit will be two wolves) and people were allowed to pursue them and shoot them from airplanes, wolf numbers in Ontario remained robust. And killing lots of wolves to provide more moose for hunters isn’t exactly something that a large portion of society views favourably.

There are lots of other examples of wildlife being managed despite what the scientific evidence suggests is the prudent course; enough, I’m certain, to fill a large book.

But instead, let’s just look at one more.

It’s as close to irrefutable as I can imagine that unregulated hunting – anywhere – can lead to serious declines in populations of wildlife. Occasionally, as in the case of the great auk and arguably the passenger pigeon, hunter harvest was the primary cause of their extinction. Other species in North America, including elk, antelope, bison and wild turkey, were almost hunted to extinction, but survived. Fortunately, herculean efforts by dedicated conservationists prevented these and other animals from going extinct and restoration efforts – including highly regulated hunting – have seen populations rebound dramatically.

But over large swaths of Canada, the magnitude of unregulated hunting is now rapidly expanding and wildlife is once again under the gun. It’s a huge threat to wildlife and it’s happening despite evidence provided by science; the issue is being ignored in favour of narrow, legalistic, guilt-ridden social concerns. What I’m talking about, of course, are rights-based hunting privileges.

In most of Canada, based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of Treaty, Aboriginal and Métis Rights, as enshrined by Canada’s constitution (which came into effect in 1982), Aboriginal and Métis people can hunt (and do a bunch of other things ordinary Canadians can’t do) with little or no regard to provincial or federal regulations. Yes, there are some restrictions (for example, the geographic area where ‘impunity’ applies may be restricted to a Treaty area, where Treaties have been signed), but by and large there are: no requirements to have a hunting license, no bag limits; no specific hunting seasons for the species in question; and, no need to follow a number of other regulations that apply to the general hunting public (for example, in Ontario only licensed big game hunters need to wear specific types of clothing, i.e., hunter orange; and, only licensed hunters can’t night hunt).

In essence, these ‘rights-based’ individuals are outside the law and their activities (in this case, hunting), can’t be managed or regulated by the provincial and/or the federal authorities charged with managing wildlife on a sustainable basis. In theory, Aboriginal and Métis people can manage themselves, but there are, for the most part, no legal mechanisms in place to ensure that happens and also nothing to enforce compliance. Besides, many or even most people and communities with these rights don’t want or think there is any need for restraint. Given that all hunters, whether licensed or rights-based, have access to all the modern marvels of technology (e.g., 4X4s, ATVs, GPS, 10 million power candlelight spotlights, etc.), it’s easy to see there needs to be regulations that limit the hunter kill.

It’s a large and growing problem with no solution in sight. The likely outcome, I think, is that many populations of wildlife will be hunted down to low levels, like they were by European colonialists, before everyone ‘wakes up’ and realizes a regulatory framework for all people, regardless of their race, needs to be in place if wildlife is to survive and thrive.

It’s interesting how history repeats itself. It’s also interesting how people who profess to be committed to science/evidence based decision making can so easily turn a blind eye to reality when the fog of being politically correct consumes the soul.

turkey-121

Today I applied for a spring turkey hunting license in Michigan. Not sure how this will pan out, as there is still much to do before the hunt, if I do get to go.

Let’s look at the list: need to get drawn (apparently, the odds are good); need to renew my passport; need to fill out some forms to transport a firearm into the USA; and, I need to see if there are restrictions this year as to whether I can actually bring a turkey back into Canada from the states. Last year, a few friends hunted in the mid-west, were successful, but were not allowed to cross the border back into Canada with their birds. The problem was an outbreak of avian flu in the states – another wildlife health and disease issue. Anyway, it’s something I need to delve into and find out what the score is. No sense spending all that time and effort to travel and hunt and not be allowed to bring back a tasty bird (if I’m fortunate enough to harvest one!). On the other hand, I’ll have a chance to meet up with some old friends I haven’t seen in a while.

If I can’t harvest a bird that I can bring home from Michigan, I can still hunt in Ontario. Maybe I can do both, as the area I’m looking at going in Michigan isn’t far from Sault Ste. Marie, where there’s a healthy wild turkey population to the east, and a hunt on nearby St. Joseph’s Island. I’ll have to see how events unfold . . .

I really enjoy turkey hunting, but I find it somewhat distressing that a disease issue is once again a factor as to whether I can harvest, transport and consume my (potential) catch.

On my last post, I discussed chronic wasting disease and the fact there was a little bit of good news on that front. Not much, but a little. Despite the bad news about avian flu, most of the wild turkey story is good news. Growing up, there were no turkeys in Ontario; they were extirpated in the 1800’s. Today, turkey numbers in the province (progeny of wild birds captured from neighboring jurisdictions and then live released) are closing in on a 100,000.

There could be more. In northwestern Ontario, I think wild turkeys would do well in the agricultural areas around Fort Frances and Rainy River. After all, there are wild turkeys in parts of adjacent Manitoba, where the weather is similar, if not a bit more harsh. The problem is the government in Ontario, or at least some individuals, believe that because northwestern Ontario is outside the known, historical range of turkey, wild turkeys don’t belong. It’s a consideration which can make sense (one doesn’t want introductions of wildlife made willy nilly), but it’s not as if wild turkeys are exotic to North America.

What seems to have gotten the short shrift in this line of thinking is the fact that the agricultural lands of northwestern Ontario today bear little resemblance to what the landscape – and its associated faunal assemblage – looked like prior to European colonization. And outside of some sort of apocalyptic, catastrophic event(s), there’s no going back to the way it was. That’s nothing but a pipe dream, adhered to only by a small and radical fringe of extreme environmentalists.

However, it is what it is and with no close by Ontario turkeys, turkey hunting for me, at least for the foreseeable future, means going on a considerable hike.

All in all, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just could be better.