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 with Rob Miskosky

Bad Ideas Born Again

The murmur in the crowd that followed Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Minister Mel Knight’s statement that those in the game ranching industry “must be allowed to control their own destiny” was quite noticeable. In fact, the vast majority of the near 300 delegates attending the 2010 Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA) Conference could plainly be heard cussing under their breaths at the newly appointed minister, who must have been aware of the stance this group took back in 2002 when game farmers lobbied government to allow hunting on so-called cervid harvest preserves.

The new minister appeared insensitive to the delegates concerns, instead, sympathetic to the plight of a floundering game farm industry.

An industry that was originally given the green light by a Don Getty government that, despite warnings the privatization, domestication and commercialization of wildlife would create a poison bag that many on the bottom end of the pyramid scheme would be left holding, pushed ahead anyway.

The government of the day then issued permits that allowed the capture of wild deer and elk to those so inclined to get into the business of taming wildlife.

Many still believe the industry was illegally introduced to Alberta.

High-fenced hunting has again reared its ugly head.
Then at the 2011 AFGA Conference, amid concerned discussions among delegates of a sinister new bill, Bill 11, the Livestock Diversity Amendment Act 2011, which would remove farmed elk and deer from the protection of SRD and put them in the lap of an agriculture department that has the best interests of game farmers in hand, Minister Knight failed to mention the subject in his speech to the delegates.

Bill 11 was already well underway.

And clearly to the benefit of the Alberta Elk Commission who state within their website a goal to “Consolidate all regulatory responsibility and authority for Alberta elk ranches under Alberta Agriculture. This will provide elk ranchers with clear and concise expectations and regulations to preserve the safety of our animals and increase our ability to access and compete in the global markets.”

Including the global market of high-fenced hunting where American money pays most for the highest scoring rack of a farmed bull elk.

According to the Alberta Elk Commission, “Recreational opportunities to harvest trophy elk bulls will become a significant product stream for all elk farmers. Mature bulls realize their optimum revenue potential within this market.”

A market that when given full disclosure to the public, is clearly, as Ralph Klein stated back in 2002, “abhorrent.”

And for the vast majority of ethical hunters in Alberta, high-fenced hunting is considered a black mark and blight on hunting itself.

But proponents declared that Section 18 of Bill 11 clearly states that A person shall not hunt or permit to hunt
(a) a big game or controlled animal within the assigned meanings in the Wildlife Act on any diversified livestock farm, or

(b) a diversified livestock animal.

Which sounds fine and dandy until one reads Section 10, which allows the minister of the day to “issue a permit authorizing a prescribed activity that would or could otherwise constitute a contravention of this Act.”

Uproar followed, letters from concerned outdoorsmen and women were sent to their various MLAs, and suddenly pressure was being applied to have Bill 11 amended.

And it appears to have worked.

In Alberta Hansard, “the official report of the debates of a Legislature”, dated Monday, March 21, 2011, the following took place:
Mr. George VanderBurg (MLA - Whitecourt-Ste. Anne): My last question to the same minister: again, are you saying that there are no plans, nothing in your ministry plan, for hunt farms for cervids?
The Speaker: The hon. minister. Mr. Jack Hayden (Agriculture Minister): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That’s what I’m saying. There will absolutely not be hunt farms for cervids. Period.

Which now, much to the chagrin of the Alberta Elk Commission, leads the way to an amendment to Bill 11, an amendment that will be closely scrutinized to make sure that hunt farms remain non-existent in Alberta.

But for now, Alberta outdoorsmen and women are left wondering why they had to beat down the ugly head of hunt farms and canned hunting once again.

And why an industry that has, by all accounts, lived up to the warnings scientists gave when it was first legalized, including the rise of a massive epidemic of tuberculosis that spread across Canadian game farms, even infecting people, and then the emergence of chronic wasting disease on a Saskatchewan game farm three years later that soon spread to Alberta’s wildlife, is propped up by taxpayer dollars when it should be nothing less than dismantled with compensation packages offered to affected game farmers.

After all, it was with government encouragement—a government that failed to properly engage due process before legalizing the industry—that people entered into the facade that now finds itself at odds with conservation organizations across the North American continent.

With the introduction and now “promised” amendment of Bill 11, as was with Bill 36, the Land Stewardship Act that threatened property rights in its wording, it appears that trust in government has never been lower in Alberta amongst its citizens.

In the eyes of many, Bill 11 needs more than just rewording; it needs complete dismantling, along with the industry that it was written for.

Government needs to get this one right, once and for all. ■

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