Alberta game ranchers are lobbying provincial governments in yet another attempt to legalize hunting farms.
They say it’s an industry that could bring millions of dollars to rural communities, but the farms are strongly opposed by wildlife scientists and fishing and game groups.
The Alberta Elk Commission has been lobbying the province and rural municipalities since at least the spring of 2020 for legislative changes that would allow what it calls “deer harvest preserves.” These are fenced areas for raising animals such as elk, deer, or bison where paying guests can hunt and shoot the animals.
The Alberta Lobbyists Registry shows the commission is contacting three government departments to request changes that would allow game farms to allow hunting and the sale of meat, allowing hunters to take their catch home.
It is also seeking support from rural municipalities. Lacombe County discussed the proposal at its September 9 meeting.
The proposal comes as the United Conservative Government of Alberta begins a broad review of wildlife legislation that promises, according to government documents, “to explore innovative tool options to provide better recreational hunting opportunities on the land. public and private lands ”.
Alberta game farms are already exporting animals to places where so-called “canned hunts” are legal.
Commission Chairman John Cameron, who represents more than 50 elk ranches in Alberta, said it would make sense to keep that income.
“Harvest reserves would give producers the ability to harvest animals that are currently exported to other jurisdictions, providing an opportunity for economic development in Alberta,” he wrote in an email.
Cameron said the hunting farms would double the industry’s revenue to around $ 500 million and create more than 300 jobs.
“The Alberta Elk Commission is asking for it now in order to support and develop our industry so that we can pass our business on to the next generations of our largely family-owned farms and ranches,” he said.
Saskatchewan has about 35 game farms that offer up to 100 hunts per year, according to provincial government figures.
The relevant legislation is the responsibility of the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Asked how Minister Devin Dreeshen views the commission’s requests, spokesman Mackenzie Blyth responded in an email.
“The Government of Alberta is committed to supporting Alberta entrepreneurs and working with communities and organizations to drive growth and job creation, particularly in rural areas of our province,” he said. -he declares.
The response worries Delinda Ryerson of the Alberta Fish and Game Association. She said her group wrote to Dreeshen in January to express concerns about the hunting farms and had yet to receive a response.
“There are a whole host of ecological, economic and heritage reasons that we categorically oppose,” she said.
Hunting farms – and game farms – damage native wildlife through hybridization and the spread of disease, she said. She fears they are also encouraging a pay-to-hunt mentality that will eventually stifle a hobby enjoyed by thousands of Albertans.
“It’s not exactly a fair pursuit,” Ryerson said. “These days, it’s hard enough to be a hunter. Something like canned hunts will only make matters worse.
The Boone and Crockett Club, which lists North American trophy hunting records, opposes such hunts and will not record their catches. The same goes for local environmental organizations, including the Alberta Wilderness Association.
Cameron disputes Ryerson’s claim that hunting farms spread disease to wild stocks.
“There is no concern about the spread of disease from animals harvested from harvest reserves to the wild population,” he wrote. “(All) animals harvested from harvest cans are tested… so there is no problem with the spread of disease.”
But it’s hard to separate wildlife from enclosures, said Ryan Brook, a wildlife biologist at the University of Saskatchewan.
“Contact of wild elk and domestic elk through the fence has been documented and we have seen pictures of it circulating,” he wrote in an email. “It is an important potential route for disease transmission.”
University of Alberta biologist and hunter Mark Boyce said chronic wasting disease, a deadly wildlife disease that spreads quickly to the Prairies, likely arrived in Canada through a farm in game.
Legalizing hunting farms, he said, “is nonsense. It’s completely crazy.
Alberta permits hunting farms for wild boar, a non-native species. Boyce said the results of this experiment should be a warning.
“We have hundreds of wild boars in the wild in Alberta because of a dozen hunting farms. They go out.
In its documents to Lacombe County, the elk commission said chronic wasting disease was one of the reasons the industry wanted hunting farms.
“The spread of chronic wasting disease in the wild is limiting the export market (s) … threatening the viability of the industry,” his presentation reads.
The Alberta government says it is planning public consultations on wildlife management and recreational hunting rules.
But the province has been here before.
In 2002, his Progressive Conservative government considered hunting farms and refused them. The then Prime Minister, Ralph Klein, was unequivocal.
“Going to a hunting farm and shooting a penned animal, an animal that has no chance, I think that’s odious,” he said. “People just don’t like the idea and neither do I.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 3, 2021.
– Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @ row1960
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press