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 with Rob Miskosky

Our Changing Times

My inbox was screaming hot and emails were pouring in. Not only at the office but also at home and through the private message system of the Alberta Outdoorsmen message board. Alberta’s outdoorsmen and women are wound up, equal to that of a lynch mob and all at a time when thoughts of a new fishing season should be top priority.

But if you hunt or fish in Alberta, well, as Bob Dylan sang, “... the times they are a-changin’.”

For many, however, change isn’t always a good thing.

First up was the Open Spaces Alberta (OSA) pilot project that riled the masses. Emails were flying and some of them not so nice. The main target—Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Minister Ted Morton.

Seems the minister’s Open Spaces initiative failed miserably in convincing outdoorsmen and women that change was needed in southern Alberta where access onto private lands is said to be poor. Conspiracy theories were running rampant; a result of the secretive manner in which OSA discussions took place.

One would think that lessons would have been learned after the same secretive process resulted in the Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement—an agreement that also raised the ire of Alberta’s outdoorsmen and women. But the term “live and learn” must have fell on deaf ears.

That was until SRD Minister Ted Morton announced at the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties convention in Edmonton that at least half of the OSA initiative was dead. Unlike so many SRD ministers before him, it appears this minister is willing to listen to those his decisions affect.

While the Recreation Access Management Program (RAMP) part of OSA is still alive, the dreaded Hunting For Habitat (HFH) portion appears to be in the past. HFH would have seen tags issued to certain landowners that would have been allowed to market them much like outfitters.

Which didn’t sit very well with many, including AFGA’s Past Presidents who circulated a letter addressed to both Minister Morton and Premier Ed Stelmach stating, “The Past Presidents solidly support the concept that wildlife is a public trust that must be managed in the public interest; in these programs wildlife becomes private property managed in the private interest.”

In other words, no way to Open Spaces Alberta and its programs.

But RAMP still exists and it is a program that many believe could work in Alberta provided there is considerable stakeholder involvement.

Meanwhile our Fish and Wildlife department were undertaking the gruesome task of trying to control chronic wasting disease (CWD) along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border.

However, this time the target wasn’t Minister Morton but rather Alberta’s Wildlife Disease Specialist Margo Pybus who was taking most of the heat.

Labeled as “knee-jerk” and “Alberta’s Mad Scientist”, emails were casting Margo as being on the ground in full combat gear with a machine gun in hand, laughing wildly as she single-handedly wiped out Alberta’s deer population.

All this while the gunships roared overhead.

Horrifying images of deer pits full of dead deer were being circulated, playing on the emotions of viewers while ludicrous statements and claims were being made casting our Fish and Wildlife Division in a poor light.

And much of it is being eaten up by hunters, accepting statements made in emails as opposed to checking facts or finding out the truth for themselves.

Yes it is an ugly, dirty job, but Alberta’s culling program is being conducted in a manner consistent with the recommendations of wildlife disease experts across North America.

Fish and Wildlife staff process mule deer taken during the 2008 CWD cull program.

In the words of the late Elizabeth Williams, who first determined that CWD is a TSE, “Models of CWD epidemic dynamics suggest early, aggressive intervention via selective culling or more generalized population reduction show the greatest promise of preventing new endemic foci from being established.”

Alberta has a distinct advantage over other jurisdictions because culled deer are proving to be in the very early stages of CWD. In many other jurisdictions CWD has become endemic, something Alberta is trying very hard to prevent.

According to Fish and Wildlife, “The program goals and assumptions were reviewed recently by an external panel of wildlife disease experts and they recommended that we stay the course of using combined hunter recreational effort in the fall with targeted government action in the winter.”

For me, I'm going to leave this in the hands of the experts and follow their lead. And there are a realm of data to suggest that what Alberta is doing is the only known way to stay on top of CWD.

Next time you forward an email, check the facts first.

Prior to all this the Méis Nation of Alberta (MNA) were poaching their way across the province, daring the Alberta government to press charges.

With little regard for wildlife laws this selfish group were busy tarnishing the names of Métis people everywhere, and doing a pretty good job of it.

The killing of an antelope out-of-season in southern Alberta raised the hackles of many who reasoned that this is indeed why stricter controls had to be put in place on Métis harvesters, also suggesting that conservation is not one of the guiding factors behind the MNA when resident hunters have to wait at least five years before being eligible to hunt an antelope.

But our minister, in a speech to the AFGA delegates at their annual convention, was holding firm.

“The Métis Association has initiated a campaign of civil disobedience,” said Morton, who isn’t exactly favoured as minister by the MNA who malign against him at every chance. Now they will have at least another year to continue to do so.

“In every case where this has happened, our Fish and Wildlife officers have been there, charges have been laid, and all of these cases are going to court. These people will be charged with hunting out of season and without a valid licence,” he said to the delegates who responded with an ovation.

“The Government of Alberta would prefer to have a negotiated agreement rather than proceed on a case-by-case basis,” said the minister. “But I can assure you that the terms of the negotiation haven’t changed. The who and the where are going to have to be spelled out according to the Powley Agreement. And I make you a promise that we won’t be wishy-washy on that.”

Unfortunately it appears the MNA wants nothing to do with the Powley decision but would rather have the old harvesting agreement, Pearl’s pearl, back on the front burner with just a little tweak here and there.

Ted Morton has had a full plate since becoming minister of SRD and his popularity has taken a bit of a tumble. His popularity may in fact be headed for even further erosion when Alberta’s Land-use Framework (LUF) is released later this year.

LUF, designed to “set an approach to govern and manage public and private lands and natural resources” will affect just about everybody.

Morton even admitted, “many would be upset” when the final document is released. This would include recreational users, including hunters and anglers.

The task is one that few would want, but Ted Morton has accepted the challenge even asking to remain in the portfolio given him by Premier Ed Stelmach. At the very least, he should most certainly be recognized for not having a fear of treading into the most dangerous areas of the political arena.

And commended for listening to his fellow outdoorsmen and women. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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