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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative


Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

The Absurd Elk Hunt Proposal in Ontario

Illustrating the Hypocrisy of Wildlife Management

Published 10/04/10

We had elk. They were once found throughout much of eastern North America. Scientists at the time considered the eastern elk to be a form distinct from other elk in other parts of the continent. But, as is true of so many eastern species that bore the brunt of European settlement that moved from east to west across the continent, they were wiped out. The eastern elk is extinct, not seen in Ontario since the last one was recorded in 1893.

Soon after that, attempts were made to take elk captured out west and release them in Ontario. But fears arose that they would infect livestock with disease and most were killed off before it was discovered that the fears were groundless. Two small, isolated groups remained, but did not increase in number. That would never do and so about a decade ago the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) took 443 western elk from Alberta and set them loose in four locations in Ontario.

What we know about the original eastern elk is that they were, in Ontario, at the northern end of their range, able to live in the deciduous and mixed deciduous and coniferous woods and openings that occurred there, but petering out as they reached the northern, mostly coniferous boreal forest. That optimal habitat in southern Ontario has been irrevocably changed. It does not exist. And my goodness, we animal protectionists constantly hear complaints about white-tailed deer, a much smaller relative of the elk, in the southern part of the province where the eastern elk had its provincial stronghold. We are constantly fighting to protect deer from this or that cull (and have had some successes!).

If a moose, the only one of the four deer species native to Ontario that is bigger than an elk, dares to wander south into the farms and suburbs of southern Ontario, the OMNR and police storm after it, tranquilizer guns at the ready, real guns blazing if that does not work. No room for anything that big in farms, suburbs and towns of the south.

But in the hypocritical minds of the OMNR, ostensibly an organization in service of all Ontarians, but all too often seeing itself as serving only the small and dwindling fraction of citizens who hunt, trap and fish, none of that matters.

So recently the OMNR posted six notices about elk “management” proposals on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), with a deadline for comment of Oct. 14. What is proposed is to allow hunting and elk kill permits be issued to farmers in defense of agriculture. Yep, elk eat some of the things we do, but that was already known.

What is beyond bizarre is the small number of animals involved. Two of the original introductions have seen decreases. Two others have increased a little, but still only contain between a hundred and a hundred and fifty animals each. Only one herd, one that is closest to the primal (southern) area once inhabited by the eastern elk, is larger, and it consists of — wait for it — 467 individual animals! Think about that: 467 animals in a province substantially bigger than Alaska. If 467 animals are too many, why on earth did they introduce them in the first place? Well, the answer to that is obvious. Hunters are, as I type, fondling their large-caliber rifles in eager anticipation for a crack at yet another big-game target, all in the name of wildlife management, of course.

I mentioned four species of deer native to Ontario. The fourth is the caribou, a boreal forest-dwelling subspecies popularly known as the woodland caribou. There are an estimated 20,000 of them in Ontario, and yet they are provincially and nationally a species of concern, listed under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, and protected from hunting (except by aboriginal people exercising treaty rights) since 1929.

True, by nature caribou tend to assemble in huge herds, or would if we would stop interfering with them, but on the other hand they were never wiped out, the way elk were.

Not a good record, is it? Only four species of deer (collectively we refer to them as Cervids) native to the province, and we managed to exterminate or endanger half of them.

There are people who intentionally feed the elk and we think that is a bad idea, as it acclimatizes the animals to humans and agricultural food sources. But if Ontario is serious about re-establishing the elk in Ontario, well, they clearly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It’s hard to imagine any other large species of animal dropping to such low numbers and not being so listed.

By the way, this is a blog, not an appeal for help since most blog readers are not Ontarians, and their thoughts and opinions probably won’t count, but if you’re still as outraged and disgusted by this nonsense as I am, it does not hurt to write, quickly, before the Oct. 14 deadline.

But you MUST cite the EBR numbers in question in your letter, phone call or e-mail, and they are 011-0746, 011-074l, 011-0742, 011-0743, 011-0744 and 011-0745. Write to the Honourable Linda Jeffrey, Minister of Natural Resources, Suite 6630, 6th floor, Whitney Block, 99 Wellesley Street West, Toronto, ON M7A 1W3, Canada, or phone (416) 314-2301, or fax (416) 325-5316, or e-mail minister.mnr@ontario.ca

Blogging off,
Barry Kent MacKay

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