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May 7 and the ice is gone – from most lakes. There’s still ice on the big, deep lake trout lakes and one can still see the odd patch of snow/ice in the bush. Last night it was -80 C, so it’s not as if the blossoms are in bloom. Fact is the pussy willows have only just begun to emerge. No green sheen in the forest yet.

At least the pond in front of the house has been ice-free for several days, albeit most mornings there is a bit of ice along the edges. But that quickly melts off and is long gone by the afternoon.

When there was a mix of open water and ice on the pond, the ducks were in active courtship. The hooded mergansers in particular were really going at it. Lots of fighting and displaying and ‘gronking’, which is the sound of their mating call.

There were also wood ducks, green-winged teal, ringnecks, common mergansers and of course mallards. Very early, a pair of Canada geese built their nest on the beaver house and we expect the goslings will be hatching any day now.

I put up a blind to photograph from and for a few days there was a lot of action for me to try and capture. However, things have slowed down considerably and lately it’s mostly just a group of three drake mallards that come by the blind. Maybe things will pick up once the nights get a bit warmer and things start to green up.

In addition to the waterfowl, there’s been a steady stream of other migrants. Of special note was a pair of willets (first I’ve ever seen) and several rusty blackbirds. And the tree swallows are back – all three nest boxes look to be claimed.

Some deer did make it through the winter. In addition to the three that were almost daily visitors for months, there have been of late a couple of others coming to nibble at greenery on the lawn. Yesterday we noticed a large paw print of a bear on the road only a couple of hundred meters from the house. Maybe it’s the big brown one I saw last spring.

spring-7

Also yesterday, in the morning, we saw from the house a very fluffy, orangy red fox catching some rays. A couple of weeks ago, just when the ice was starting to melt, a coyote – the first we’ve seen on our property –showed up one day, but we haven’t seen it since. Best of all, I haven’t seen a timber wolf for several weeks.

There seems to be good numbers of ruffed grouse as we hear many drumming, not just on our property but pretty much wherever we have been. Neva seems to find one or two to flush on her daily walk, which keeps her happy. I like grouse a lot, so seeing and hearing grouse every day is a good thing.

Lil and I haven’t seen a single moose track anywhere we’ve been. Granted, we’ve not been travelling far and wide, but in years gone by it was common to see moose tracks on our property and here and there on the roads near town. Those days are long gone.

The MNRF released its moose tag quota allocations for the 2019 hunt and, unbelievably, is planning on issuing more cow tags than bull tags across the province as a whole. This despite the fact moose numbers continue to decline and in most WMUs, moose populations are well below their targets. In the WMU Lil and I hunt (06), only 1 tag was issued – for a cow. It seems to me this is complete lunacy, but it’s also what I’ve come to expect from an outfit where I worked for more than 30 years. I’m just glad I don’t work there any more – it’s hard enough admitting it’s where I had a career. I just shake my head.

When I began to write this, on April 8, 2019, the temperature outside was hovering just above the freezing mark and it had just begun a rain/snow mix. Snow still carpeted the ground, although there were bare patches under some of the conifers and on some south facing slopes. The ponds and lakes were still ice-locked, except where there’s current.

Now, three days later, not much has changed, except it’s clear and cold (-60 C this morning), rather than overcast with snow and rain.

Two geese showed up on the pond on April 5th and hung out most of the day, before leaving, but they have since returned, at least once. Last year, geese arrived on the pond the same date. I suspect these early arrivals are to do with claiming the pond as their own in an effort to build a nest and raise some young, something that has been a failure on this pond two years running. Maybe this year will be different and both geese and ducks can successfully hatch and rear some progeny.

The wolves whittled the deer down again this winter, but there are still a few around. The deer population, overall, is a shadow of what it was about 10 years ago and seems to still be on a downward trajectory. As I’ve said before, I don’t think deer herds here will recover until the next spruce budworm epidemic is well underway, something that as far as I know, hasn’t even started yet. Interestingly, I did see a deer chewing on some lichens the other day, but like deer, lichen abundance is minimal.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation to the Canadian Institute of Forestry, Lake of the Woods Chapter, on Moose Emphasis Areas, or MEAs. Basically, MEAs are large patches of forest – e.g., 5-10 thousand hectares – where the forest managers try to coordinate the creation and maintenance of good to excellent moose habitat when carrying out forest operations, namely harvesting, renewal and maintenance of wood fibre. Dr. Vince Crichton – Doc Moose – gave a presentation on moose and moose management in general, and there were two other presentations by District Biologists as to how MEAs were actually being implemented in approved forest management plans.

I think there was a general consensus that good moose habitat is a key component of managing moose, but other factors, including predation, disease and human harvest, are also important. Unfortunately, all factors, not just moose habitat, are difficult to control.

For example, starting with moose habitat, successful planning and implementing MEAs require a skillful planning team. But that alone is not enough, as public input needs to be accommodated. In many areas, the benefits of MEAs might not be realized without restrictions on road access (you need roads to practice forestry, but roads also provide access to human hunters and other predators).Meaningful restrictions on road access can be difficult if not impossible, because the public simply won’t accept them.

And good habitat, even with road restrictions, might not be enough. Sometimes, predators can suppress prey (e.g., moose) populations – which in some circumstances might warrant predator control. But these days, any talk of predator control seems to be met with a great deal of derision. Governments everywhere – certainly here in Ontario – have pretty much tossed the option of predator control aside.

There’s not much that can be done about disease, but at least there have been, in this part of the country, harsher, more snowy winters of late, which has reduced (a) deer populations, which in turn has reduced the incidence of brain worm, a major moose killer, and (b) moose tick abundance. Moose ticks thrive when winters are short, but take a hit from early and late snow cover (moose die-offs from severe moose tick infestations are fairly common in some areas). Fewer deer also mean fewer wolves, so again, that’s a good thing. Bears are another story.

Human harvest can be controlled to some degree, but again, there are issues that probably should be addressed, but can’t, or aren’t. These include:

(a) there is little control over harvest by Aboriginals and Métis, who do not require licences to hunt and are generally not subject to road use restrictions. Some Aboriginal and Métis groups and communities have voluntarily agreed to moose harvest limits, but there are no enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.

(b) despite reductions in the number of adult tags available to licenced hunters in many Wildlife Management Units (e.g., in WMU 6 there was a single bull tag issued last year – to me – and I didn’t fill it), there is still an unrestricted, two week hunt for calf moose. That means anyone with a moose licence can hunt and harvest (one) calf moose in any WMU during the ‘open’ calf season.

(c) there seems to be a mis-guided desire to have a bull:cow ratio close to 50:50. Doc Moose presented evidence that bulls can be substantially fewer in number than cows and still ‘get the job done’. It seems patently ridiculous to lower the number of bull tags and increase the number of cow tags, especially in WMUs where moose are declining and below population targets.

(d) there is also evidence that shows younger bulls are less effective breeders than older bulls, yet in Ontario, there are no restrictions on what kind of bull a hunter can harvest with a bull tag. Cows are less responsive to the clumsier wooing of young bulls as compared to mature bulls and young bulls have both lower sperm counts and lower sperm quality, making conception less likely. In addition, in many WMUs, there has been a tendency to have an early bow season, to allow hunters to call in a bull to the close range a bow hunter requires. As such, bulls are harvested before or during the peak of the rut. Fewer old bulls and harvesting bulls immediately before or during the rut might still let all the cows be bred – at least in those WMUs with a reasonable moose population –  but breeding might not be concentrated during the prime estrus, around the end of September. As a result, calving can be spread out over a longer period the following spring, making it easier for predators that specialize in taking young calves (i.e., wolves and large bears), thus reducing recruitment.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to moose management is cultural. In Ontario, moose management is not the pressing issue it used to be for the government, replaced with concerns such as the plight of species at risk and a desire to deal with climate change hysteria. The perceived indifference to moose by the government is exacerbated by the fact that many hunters have little faith in government actions or policies, resulting in a ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude. So poaching and a general disregard for rules have, in my opinion, increased (and I’m far from alone in believing that).

While I’m not completely convinced things can’t be turned around, I’m not in the habit of looking at things through rose-coloured glasses, either. The problems are huge and not easily addressed.

MAFA2

Still, outside of moose (and deer) world, life is not all bad.  Spring is in the air, or at least it should be over the coming weeks. I do look forward to the return of the migratory birds and seeing the return of the colour green.

Plus many a BBQ, with a cold beverage in hand, are looming in my future. And that’s a very good thing.

 

In addition to wolves and coyotes, bears, deer, moose and turkeys have to be tagged in Ontario.

I recently purchased a wolf/coyote tag so I can hunt wolves. Actually, I just need/want the tag to be able to shoot a wolf if it happens to show itself on the frozen pond in front of the house. As I’ve said on a number of occasions on this blog and elsewhere, I don’t hate wolves and appreciate the important role they play in the overall scheme of things. However, there are, right now, lots of wolves around, a holdover from when deer were super-abundant. Deer populations have collapsed, but wolves have hung on.

But with few deer (and virtually zero moose), the local wolves are getting desperate. They broke into a neighbors kennel the other day and attacked a dog; the dog was saved only because the neighbor heard and then saw what was going on and managed to beat the wolf off. Hence the need/want for a wolf tag.

It’s not a wolf licence. Wolves in Ontario fall under the auspices of a small game licence, so to hunt wolves you need a small game licence and a wolf tag. There are some stupid regs associated with this scenario – one can’t hunt wolves with “a rifle with a muzzle energy greater than 400 ft-lbs . . . during the open [firearm] season for a big game species [without] a valid licence for a big game species that a season is open for.” Even if you have a small game licence and a wolf tag. That’s just ridiculous. But, since there is no moose or deer or elk rifle season open where I live right now, it’s not a pressing issue.

Anyway, I had to go down to a licence issuer to buy the tag. It cost me $11.36 and was printed out on a sheet of letter-size bond paper. The tag itself is only a portion of the sheet of paper (less than ¼) and there are instructions where to fold it and cut it out.

As I said, the tag was printed out on standard bond paper.

The Ontario Hunting Regulations Summary says “The term ‘game seals will be replaced by ‘tags’.”

I haven’t asked anyone why the change, but it seems to me it’s pretty hard to claim a piece of paper that can virtually disintegrate if it gets a soaker is a ‘seal’.

Which leads to the question: what is the purpose of a ‘seal/tag’?

Seals have been used by game agencies to ‘tag’ an animal a hunter has the authority to harvest. ‘Seal the deal’, so to speak. A seal was meant to ensure the harvest of a particular species, or type of animal (e.g., buck, doe) was tightly controlled. This is different from how fish are generally managed, where there are simple catch and possession limits (e.g., you can catch x number of walleye every day during the open season, and possess another number. But if you eat, or give to a friend your catch limit, you can go out the next day and do it all again). It’s all about abundance – generally there are lots more fish than there are animals.

Although there are caveats, the simple way to view seals and tags is to understand they are meant to ensure that once one has sealed/tagged an animal, you can’t kill another, unless one has another seal/tag.

In Ontario, and many other jurisdictions, seals have been made from a relatively indestructible material; like plastic, or nylon. Often, they had one side that was ‘sticky’; to seal an animal one had to remove the covering on the sticky side of the seal, attach the seal to the animal (at the kill site), and press the sticky side together. Usually, the time and date of the kill had to be notched into the seal. These two requirements (having a sticky seal that couldn’t be ‘unstuck’ and notching the seal, were designed to keep hunters honest and ensure the seal couldn’t be used again. In addition, seals are/were difficult to copy, so what you got was what you got.

The last few years Ontario has been getting out of having tags ‘stick’, but they were still made out of a mostly non-destructible material, had to be attached to the animal at the kill site, and had a requirement to be notched as to time and date of the kill, again, at the kill site. And they were difficult to copy.

But such seals, even without the sticky (or a wire which also used to be issued that was used to help attach the seal to the downed animal) aren’t cheap, or at least have some cost to them. As such, they’re one place where game agencies, being stretched ever thinner and under constant pressure to trim costs and find ‘efficiencies’, have been focusing their attention of late.

To achieve ‘efficiencies’ – and supposedly to make life more convenient for hunters – Ontario has done away with seals and replaced them with tags. There’s no requirement for tags to be printed on something that’s weather resistant and, except for wolf/coyote tags (I have no idea why there is an exception for these canids), a hunter who is eligible can print off both their licence and associated tags at home.

I’ve heard that there has been advice put out by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to put tags in something like a zip-lock bag to keep it from being destroyed, but I don’t see such info on the tag I purchased nor do I see anything like that in the hunting summary.

There’s still the requirement to notch the tag at the kill site, but the tag doesn’t have to be attached to the animal if the hunter remains in possession of the animal until it’s brought “to the site of processing and is being processed for long-term storage”. If one isn’t in accompaniment of the animal, or “immediately available to produce the tag for inspection”, the tag has to be attached to the appropriate place on the animal as described by the tag.

Well, I can see problems here . . .

For one, requiring the tag to be notched at the kill site before the animal is moved, and not destroying the integrity of the tag, is going to be a challenge in any kind of inclement weather.

It is an offence to make a copy of any licence or tag, but given they can be printed out on paper and it doesn’t state, in either the current regulation summary or on the tag itself (at least it doesn’t on the wolf tag I have ), in plain language that making a copy is illegal, the tag is a weak replacement for a ‘seal’. And a paper tag is very easy to copy.

There is a code on the tag that can be scanned by a QR reader, and apparently it is encrypted for use by Conservation Officers. However, everything I have heard to date suggests the field CO’s don’t have, at least as yet, the ability to detect whether a tag is an original or a duplicate. Hopefully, that will be sorted out before too long . . .

Still, the tag is on paper, which means the QR code can be easily damaged and thus won’t, if damaged, be of much use with respect to enforcement.

Apparently, the switch from a ‘real seal’ to tags created a fair amount of acrimony within the MNRF owing mostly to problems around enforcement and security. I think I can see why.

To a large degree, MNRF and others in the hunting community are counting on hunters to be supportive of the new system and abide by the regulations.

However, as I pointed out in my last post, hunting culture in Ontario, in my opinion, has moved away from being supportive of what the MNRF is up to, and the incidence of blatant disregard for rules and regulation is high.

I hope I’m wrong and the things will go off this year with minimal problems.

I guess we will soon find out.

 

moose-28.

The title of the blog will surely ruffle a few feathers. Wildlife management for the production of trophy animals gets a lot of negative reaction because of what is believed by many to be the intent and intention of such actions. The nub of the issue is: managing for trophies conjures up the vision of growing animals with big antlers or horns, or maybe something that’s big and relatively rare, specifically so hunters looking for such trophies can shoot them. Lots of people find that abhorrent, but most shouldn’t.

The issue, I think, revolves around the word ‘specifically’. And that may not always be the exact word used to describe the intent, but the ‘specifically’ gets across the idea that many people aren’t comfortable with hunters killing trophy animals (plus many people are outright opposed to hunting). But what bothers some people even more, are the people who would take it upon themselves; or, be directed by some agency, often the government, to manage trophy animals so that hunters can shoot them.

However, managing for trophies for hunters is very seldom, if ever, the primary objective in any wildlife management program. It may, in fact be an objective, but wildlife management professionals today use holistic, ecological principles to manage wildlife, even on land or in jurisdictions where the main focus of the wildlife management program is to foster and look after how hunters are managed.

Plus, it should be acknowledged that the consensus amongst the wildlife profession is that it’s generally a good thing for a population of herbivores such as moose, white-tails, sheep, kudus and impalas to have some males who live long lives and sport large headgear.  They also believe it’s a good thing to maintain as full a complement of animals as was or is natural for the area, which might mean managing for animals like bears, wolves, lions and rhinos.

If this is what’s happening (in terms of management), then it may well be sold to hunters (whom, as a group, are a major player, or in government speak, stakeholder, in the world of wildlife management) as ‘trophy management’. Selling ‘trophy management’ might be particularly likely to happen in areas where people view hunting, for the most part, positively.

So for me, I find it unfortunate that here in Ontario, any discussion about trying to manage for big, old animals in the population, doesn’t get much traction because at some point the spectre of ‘trophy management’ is raised and if done by government managers (who are responsible for moose management in Ontario), it’s almost assuredly brought forward in a very negative light.

In my opinion, this isn’t good, particularly with respect to moose or moose management, but for other species as well.

The most respected moose biologists in the world, people like Dr. Vince Crichton and the late Dr. Anthony (Tony) Bubenik (chapter authors in the book some call ‘the moose bible’, or “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose”), believe(d) moose populations that have a wide range of age classes, including so-called ‘prime bulls’, are healthiest. Ignoring their advice is one of the problems facing moose in Ontario today.

It’s no secret moose numbers in many parts of Ontario, particularly in the northwest, have plummeted in recent years. The annual licensed harvest by hunters is only about ½ what it was 15 years ago.

Part of the problem is too much hunting of prime bulls before and during the rut. Young bull moose are not particularly adept suitors and cows in heat may rebuff their amorous advances. With few prime bulls in the population, breeding gets drawn out over the fall (instead of a short, intense rut which is what happens when there are good numbers of prime bulls around). As a result, the calving season is also drawn out, giving lots of opportunity for wolves and bears to find and even hone their calf hunting skills which results in them killing and eating a lot more calves then they could if calving was more synchronized.

That’s why biologists like Bubenik recommended hunting not occur until the tail end of the rut, which was more or less what was going on in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And moose did well.

But since then, archery hunting has gained in popularity (some WMU’s issue more archery tags than regular gun tags) and the archery hunt takes place immediately prior to, and during, the peak of the rut. Plus, Aboriginal and Metis harvest has been growing and this hunt, which is unregulated (seasons, limits, licences or tags are not a legal requirement for those who can hunt because of their Constitutional Rights) tend to occur during the rut as well (the rut is a good time to hunt – moose can be called into range rather easily when the rut on – plus there isn’t a conflict with licensed rifle hunters because their moose season has yet to open).

Of course, shooting too many prime bull moose during the rut isn’t the only issue besetting Ontario’s moose population. But it is an issue and one that isn’t being properly addressed because, at least in part, it means talking about the managing for ‘trophy’ moose.

It’s OK in Ontario government circles to talk about managing for trophy fishing opportunities, but it’s not OK to talk about managing for a trophy hunt.  Strange, but true.

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We were out checking on our trail cams a few days ago we use to monitor our reintroduced elk herd (one was stolen – an $800 Reconyx; we reported the theft to the police, but it’s ‘not their top priority’). Didn’t see any live elk, moose, bear or wolves (however, quite a few were captured by the cameras) and only a couple of white-tails. I imagine the females of all species are busy with young and trying to be as secretive as possible, while the male deer are dealing with sensitive and fast growing antlers (the bull elk already have some pretty impressive growth!).

Of note, we did see several hen ruffed grouse and all of them had young. Didn’t see too many young poults, though; the ones we did see were smaller than a ping pong ball. But each hen did the ‘I’m hurt! I can’t fly! My wing is broken!’ and tried to lure me away from the young ‘uns. Some tried to scare me off with an ‘attack’, and al were quite vocal; hissing, mewing and doing other calls trying to distract me. I didn’t pester them for too long, just a minute or so while trying to get some photos of the ‘how to act wounded and lure the threat away from the babies’ routine.

One thing; there must have been great synchronicity in the hatch.  Synchronicity in hatching of birds, as well as the birth of ungulates, is thought to be good as it ‘swamps’ predators and helps reduce losses. For example, wolves and bears have an innate ability to know to look for newly born fawns and calves, but there is also an element of learning how and where to look which improves the effectiveness and efficiency of their search. So if the birthing season is prolonged, it gives predators a longer time period to hone their hunting skills to find newborn, good for predators but not so good for the prey. Once the newbies are a few weeks old, though, they have a much greater chance of escaping, as even a little fawn deer or calf knows how to run like the dickens or keep itself behind mom (e.g., a cow moose) as she fends off wolves or bears.

The best way to achieve a synchronized birth is to have a short, intense rut, when most of the females are bred in just a few days. A breeding cycle that drags on for many days, weeks, or even months, can be disastrous. And short, intense ruts are most likely to happen when there is a healthy population of prime, adult males around – they know how to woo the women.

It’s probably not near as complicated in grouse world, but the situation is likely similar. Older, male ruffed grouse might be better suitors than yearling; however, I suspect weather plays a more important role in grouse hatching success and synchronicity in nesting than behaviour. Early May – when the grouse were mating – was warm and dry. Late May and early June, hatching time for grouse, has been wetter and in a relative sense, cooler, which might not be great. Cool and wet weather can play havoc on new-born chicks; they often get pneumonia or other fatal ailments when the weather in inclement. Maybe next time we are out to check on our cameras we’ll see some more grouse families and get an idea on flock size. But at the moment, things are suggesting it could be a good fall for ruffies.

And given the ruffed grouse is one of the best tasting treats in the northern forest, that’s a good thing.

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On January 1, I posted ‘Missing the Mark’, where I suggested that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) had done a poor job with respect to proposed changes as to how wolves could be hunted in Ontario. Here’s my brief summary of the changes they proposed:

  • the present requirement to purchase a wolf seal to hunt wolves under the authority of a small game license will be repealed, and all that will be required to hunt wolves will be the small game license itself; and
  • the yearly limit will remain at two wolves, but wolves and coyotes will be separated  and there will be no limit on the number of coyotes a hunter can harvest.

It will still be mandatory to report your wolf harvest, but seeing as mandatory reporting is not enforced (I’ve been told there has never been a charge laid in Ontario wrt failing to provide a mandatory hunt report), that requirement remains toothless.

The changes proposed are mostly to try and increase the wolf harvest in response to declining moose populations. As I said in my post at the time, I predicted that would raise the ire for those who like wolves, and aren’t strongly pro-hunting.

Well that’s exactly what happened. It seems the s*** hit the fan, and at the end of the day, none of the proposed changes are going to be implemented (the MNRF must have really taken a verbal beating by the people who are enamored with wolves, don’t like the idea of managing predators [especially if it’s to ‘help’ big game], dislike wolf hunting in particular and for the most part are not in favour of hunting in general). You can read the decision here:

https://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI2OTQz&statusId=MTkzMzk2&language=en

So we’re back where we started, with all hunters (resident and non-resident) still having to buy both a small game licence and a wolf seal, and the inability to hunt wolves during an open season for bear, elk, deer or moose unless one is also in possession of a valid license for one of whatever big game season is open..

This is a crazy, stupid way to manage wolves. Wolves should have a stand-alone licence  (why does a non-resident have to buy an $272.41 wolf tag AND a $120.93 small game licence? And then can’t hunt them during the deer or moose season without ALSO having a valid moose [$483.48] or deer [$241.61] license ; i.e., that moose or deer license can’t have been used to tag a moose or deer prior to hunting a wolf).

In addition to only needing a wolf license to hunt wolves, I think wolves could and maybe should be classed similarly to bears, in that non-residents would have to hunt wolves through an outfitter in a specific management area (outfitters have bear management areas, or BMA’s; I think these could be modified to be BWMA’s – bear and wolf management areas). I also think the number of wolf tags available for non-residents in a BWMA could/should be limited, but if they were managed through a BWMA, that may be self-limiting all by itself).

A stumble, then a fumble. How ridiculous.

 

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On February 19, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced a major expansion of the pilot spring bear hunt (SBH). In short, there’s going to be a SBH much like it was before the cancellation of it in 1999 (the hunt will go on for 5 years as proposed and then be ‘evaluated’).

There are some new restrictions, particularly with respect to bait, namely:

  • Bait must not be placed within 500 metres of a residence unless written permission is obtained from the residence’s owner
  • Bait must not be placed within 500 metres of a public building
  • Bait must not be placed within 200 metres of a right of way for public vehicle traffic or a marked public recreational trail.

The SBH was cancelled in 1999 for almost entirely political reasons. The government of the day, the Harris Progressive Conservatives, were being threatened by the owner of a business called, I believe, Husky Molding, to finance opposition members in swing ridings unless the spring bear hunt was cancelled. Polling at the time suggested the conservatives would lose those ridings; polls also said most residents of Ontario, including resident hunters, weren’t in support of the SBH, or were indifferent to cancellation. However, once it was cancelled, resident hunters had a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone’. Over time, the calls for reinstatement of the SBH grew louder and louder. Resident hunters wanted it, loss of the hunt resulted in a significant loss of revenue for MNRF (formerly, just MNR) and it had a large and negative impact on the northern Ontario tourism industry, so they wanted it. For a while, none of that seemed to matter much, but in recent years several things happened that eventually made the politicians change their minds, and decide it was in their interest to bring back the SBH.

What changed the politicians’ minds were: 1) the continued deterioration of Ontario’s economic situation; 2) a nuisance bear problem in many northern Ontario communities that just won’t go away; 3) the decline of both moose and deer populations; and, 4) growing dissatisfaction with the party in power (in this case, the Liberals).

Let’s address these:

  1. Bringing back the SBH will pump, potentially, millions of dollars (and mostly US dollars) into MNRF, the tourism industry and the Ontario economy in general. That’s a good thing.
  2. I don’t think it will do much to address the nuisance bear problems, since there have always been nuisance bears (the nuisance bear problem might be reduced if bear populations get really whacked, but that might lead to an even bigger problem; see below). When there’s a food shortage (i.e., a failure of the blueberry crop), bears migrate to wherever the food is, like towns and cities, as lots of people have gardens and there’s almost always garbage somewhere. Removal of these bears by shooting and/or trapping/relocating bears in built-up areas will remain problematic. On the other hand, the government can claim they’re ‘doing the best/all we can’, positive from their perspective.
  3. Killing more bears (and wolves, which is also being ‘addressed’, see my Jan. 1 post ‘Missing the Mark’) might increase moose and deer calf and fawn survival to a small degree, but wildlife biologists believe the recent declines in moose and deer have lots of issues, including over-harvest, disease and parasites, weather (including climate change) and deteriorating habitat quality. Revenue to the MNRF from the sale of bear licenses, however, will help make up for at least some losses from the declining sale of moose and deer licenses (the MNRF budget is heavily dependent on license sales).
  4. How much bringing back the spring bear hunt helps the electoral prospects of the Liberals is debatable. It might make hunters happy, but may not translate into votes.

Personally, I think the return of the SBH is okay, maybe even a good thing, but I’m not entirely satisfied with the ‘new’ hunt for the following reasons:

  1. When the spring bear hunt was cancelled, the fall bear hunt was increased in length. It used to open (before the SBH was cancelled) September 10 over most of northern Ontario; after the SBH cancellation, the fall hunt opening was moved to August 15. With both a spring and fall hunt, the open season is now longer than it’s ever been in recent times. In addition to having to be concerned about camouflaged bear hunters in the blueberry patch in August (which many, including me, have never been too appreciative of), there’s the following point ‘2’;
  2. There’s still no quota on the bear harvest. Although the current harvest is well below what is believed to be sustainable, the number of bear hunters that could flood in, especially from the USA, is virtually unlimited. The result could be a significant over-harvest in some areas. Where I live, that was a big issue in the years immediately before the cancellation of the SBH;
  3. Although you can’t shoot a mother bear in the spring if it’s accompanied by cubs (or the cubs themselves), most places don’t have the same restriction in the fall. However, cubs often spend the 1st winter with their mother. I have serious doubts that small bear cubs orphaned in August have much chance of survival (the data that says it’s OK to orphan cubs in the fall is skimpy); and
  4. While mandatory reporting of black bear harvest is in effect, Ontario has never laid charges with failing to fill out a mandatory hunt report. In governmentspeak, it will be  “a challenge” to keep harvest levels to what’s sustainable, based on available data, especially at the Wildlife Management Unit level.

How this all plays out, who’s to know? My biggest concern is that if there is a large influx of non-resident hunters and the bear population over the next 5 years gets hammered, there’s a good chance of a huge hue and cry and the SBH gets cancelled once again. Given the lightening speed of communication via social media – coupled with the fabulous currency exchange rate that favours American hunters – I believe the potential for an onslaught of bear hunters is very real.

Silver-1

First: Happy New Year!  Now, back to business . . .

Ontario is proposing changes to how wolves are to be hunted, beginning in 2017. In my opinion, they’ve missed the mark.

The changes being proposed can be found on the Environmental Board Registry (EBR) – here’s the link:

http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI2OTQz&statusId=MTkxNjc2&language=en

The purpose of the posting is to inform the public of the proposed changes (a requirement) and provide the public with the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes. Comments can be received up to and including January 18, 2016.

Feel free to comment. However, I should tell you that based on my experience working for this Ministry (actually, when I worked there it was called the Ministry of Natural Resources; now it’s the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), changes suggested and posted to the EBR by the public very, very seldom result in any alterations to MNRF’s original proposals. Bureaucrats and the government itself think it’s a sign of weakness and/or incompetence if changes are made once they have been vetted to the point where they appear on the EBR.

I don’t think much of the changes being proposed.

Briefly, here’s a summary of the prosed changes:

  • the present requirement to purchase a wolf seal to hunt wolves under the authority of a small game license will be repealed, and all that will be required to hunt wolves will be the small game license itself; and
  • the yearly limit will remain at two wolves, but wolves and coyotes will be separated (that’s a good thing) and there will be no limit on the number of coyotes a hunter can harvest.

It will still be mandatory to report your wolf harvest, but seeing as mandatory reporting is not enforced (I’ve been told there has never been a charge laid in Ontario wrt failing to provide a mandatory hunt report, which are required for bear, turkey, wolf and in some instances, moose and deer), that requirement remains toothless.

It’s not clear to me whether the changes apply to non-residents of Ontario as well as residents. It’s a big deal if it applies to non-residents, since in 2015 a non-resident wolf tag cost $272.41 (similar to residents, two tags can be purchased), in addition to the $120.93 non-resident small game licence also required. By comparison, a resident wolf tag costs $11.14; the small game licence $25.15, so savings to residents are quite small. I’ll confirm whether or not non-residents are included in the change as soon as I find out myself. If it does apply to non-residents, it certainly makes wolf hunting much cheaper, potentially much more attractive, but may also reduce revenue by a substantial amount (a concern as MNRF’s budget plows all the $$ from the sale of fish and wildlife licences back into the MNRF).

According to Yolanta Kowalski, MNRF media spokesperson, the change will apply to both residents and non-residents (i.e., no one will have to buy a wolf tag, just the small game license). According to one line of thinking, this might actually increase revenue for the MNRF; apparently, lots of non-residents would like to hunt wolves, but were taken aback at the cost of the wolf tag on top of the small game license, so elected to purchase neither. Time will tell which way this goes . . . 

The changes proposed are mostly to try and increase the wolf harvest in response to declining moose populations. That will certainly raise the ire for those who like wolves, and aren’t strongly pro-hunting.

Rather than the changes proposed, I’d like to see wolves managed under the auspices of a stand-alone wolf licence and for tags to be continued to issued, rather than having wolves lumped in with ‘small game’ and a simple season limit. Managing wolves using the proposed system will make it much more difficult to estimate hunting effort and wolf harvest, since everyone who buys a small game license will be allowed to shoot wolves (the mandatory reporting requirement means that if you shoot a wolf, you have to report it; MNRF is counting on hunter cooperation, but that’s a stretch). In addition, there has been no sampling or reporting of small game hunting for years in Ontario, so how many of those small game hunters actually put some effort into wolf hunting will be a mystery.

The other stupidity of not having a stand-alone wolf license is that one can’t hunt wolves with a small game license with a high-powered rifle, muzzleloader or shotgun loaded with slugs or large numbered shot when there is an open season for deer, moose, elk or black bear (all classed as ‘big game’ and managed by species specific hunting licences), unless one possess a valid hunting licence for one of those big game species.

So if you are moose hunting and successfully fill your tag(s), (say on day 1 of a week-long hunt), you can’t shoot any wolves (because your licence(s) is/are no longer valid), even though the stated purpose of the regulatory change is to have more wolves shot to help out the declining moose population! At least not unless you have another valid big game license, or wait for all the big game seasons to close.

Given that wolves are an apex predator (meaning they are on the top of the food chain, killing and eating big game for survival ), it makes no sense to manage them as ‘small game’.

Poor policies result in poor management. It’s that simple.

BTW, I took the wolf photo just the other day when I was trying to photograph some otters. The wolf walked by within a 100 meters of me, and I was only about 30 m from Lil’s mom’s front doorstep.

urbandeer-1

Summer has seen lush growth in the Kenora area. Rain has been reasonably plentiful; the last few days have been particularly humid as well. There was quite an outbreak of forest tent caterpillars and as a result, huge swaths of trembling aspen dominated forests were denuded by the end of June. But now, by the middle of July, the leaves on the defoliated trees have almost fully recovered.

Caterpillar outbreaks actually result in a flush of nutrients to the forest floor, by way of caterpillar droppings, leaf fall and sunlight. Under a full canopy, most of the forest floor gets very little direct sunlight, but once the leaves are off, that isn’t the case. Given June is the month of the year with the longest days and hence, potentially, the most sunlight, all that extra photosynthetic energy reaching the forest floor really helps things grow. As a bonus, most of the rain came by way of thunderstorms, with brings more nitrogen than just normal rainfall. As I said, things are lush right now.

It’s also a good year for blueberries. Really good. Looks like the wild raspberries will also be good. Strawberries weren’t good, and it looks like this recent rain coupled with the high humidity has hit the serviceberry crop hard. Most of the still ripening berries have developed a fungus over the past few days, so what was looking good last week has taken a sudden turn to the bad. That seems to be typical, as a good service or Saskatoon berry crop (same thing, just a different name) only seems to come around every few years. Last year was actually pretty good for Saskatoons, as well as pin cherries and choke cherries. Some pin cherries this year, but not many choke cherries.

With respect to big game, the blueberries, raspberries, other berries I’m sure and the general lushness of the vegetation are good news for the bears. It will also result in healthy does, good milk production and big, fast-growing fawns. It should also mean better than average antler growth for bucks. It would probably have helped the moose herd too, if there were some moose around. We’ve seen a few individuals of our little elk herd (mostly caught on our critter cams, but we did see one big bull one morning on our way to change cards in the cameras) and they look good, too. Only one cow and calf so far – the rest of the animals were bulls, which isn’t good. We know there are more cows out there, but we also know there are more bulls than cows,  Our best guess is that the poor bull to cow ratio has to do with wolf predation – cows are smaller and easier for the wolves to take down.

So moose and elk are down, and even the deer are way less abundant than they were a few years ago. But I think that’s a good thing (deer down). There were way too many deer a few years back – the population wasn’t sustainable at those levels. Many places I could see a browse line, especially the edges of fields and forest, and along lake shores where wintering deer seem to concentrate. Lots of deer also means lots of wolves, and there were a lot of wolves around. Over the past few years, I’ve seen several looking out across the field from the living room of the house.

Fewer deer and moose (elk are mostly only in one small area, so their really an insignificant player in the wolf scheme of things) should also see a decline in the the number of wolves – good news I think. Wolves are good to have around, but there can be too many of them.

I’ll give an update on the small game and non-game situation on my next post, in a week or so.

moosedog-1

One of the main reasons I eventually became a hunting dog owner was to ensure I’d maximize my chances of finding downed and wounded game. Particularly, in my case, ducks. Not being able to retrieve ducks I’d knocked down just made me ill, and I vowed it was either stop duck hunting, or get a dog. I got a dog.

These days I don’t hunt ducks much; I spend more time in pursuit of upland game birds like grouse, pheasants and partridge, and of course I still hunt deer and other big game, with a passion.

My dogs are Wachtelhundes, a German breed that are, like many of the German hunting dogs, used for tracking, trailing, flushing and retrieving just about anything one wants to train them to do.

My friend Gary, who has run a hunting lodge not far from where I live, depends on his Wachtelhundes for ducks and upland birds, but also to find big game, including bears and wolves, his guests come to hunt. Gary instructs his guests not to try and chase down any game that runs-off’ after they shoot; rather, they are instructed to wait until Gary’s return and he’ll track down the animal with his dog. Almost all his hunters hunt from high stands, a practice they are very familiar with as most of his guests come from Europe, where this is the common hunting methodology used.

I haven’t used my dogs for tracking downed moose or deer I’ve shot at because, with one notable exception, every big game animal I’ve shot has pretty much dropped dead in its tracks. A few went a short distance, but were easily retrieved. The one exception was a large buck I shot and hit, but was unable to retrieve. I didn’t use my dog – Brill –  to help find it because I had never trained her to do blood tracking, and because there was not a lot of blood, I figured, in a distraught frame of mind, the dog would never find the deer. I still think about that deer, and know I made at least one big mistake by not letting the dog have a chance to track it. She had a much better nose than mine, and to think I could be a better tracker than her was plain stupidity on my part. I also believe it was a mistake not to have trained her to do blood trailing in the first place. It may not have been necessary for her, but it would have been good training for me, at the least. Even though this event occurred several years ago, it still bothers me.

And it should. Making every possible effort to retrieve wounded game should be a priority for all hunters. Striving to make as clean a kill as possible should be the top priority, but mistakes can and do happen. It’s hunting – conditions to dispatch quarry are usually something much less than perfect.

Not long ago I heard from a former colleague of mine about an organization that’s dedicated to using leashed dogs trained specifically to track down wounded big game. They call themselves the Big Game Blood Trackers [Ontario] (BGBTO) and they’re having an introductory seminar and field workshop in the Peterborough area of Ontario (a couple of hours east of Toronto) this July (Saturday July 18 & Sunday July 19),  at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) Hunting & Fishing Heritage Centre. It’s a good place to hold this type of event.

They’ve lined up a number of knowledgeable speakers from the USA and Canada on topics such as the history of using leashed dogs in Europe and North America to track wounded game, how to select a good tracking dog (it doesn’t rely any any particular breed) and practical dog training, with a number of in-the-field examples of dogs at work.

If it was closer, I’d be attending. Too bad it’s a two day drive for me. But if you are interested, and within range, I’d strongly recommend one should at the least think about attending and registering for what promises to be an enlightening and entertaining weekend. A lunch and evening BBQ is part of the package, so it sounds like a good time. Hunters have had a long and successful relationship with dogs, and I’m thinking this is the kind of event that should help that tradition continue.

For more information or to register, check out their website at www.biggamesearchon.com, or contact Laurel at  705 277-9183;  manverspack@nexicom.net.