Thoughts Between Draws

[Note: The following was first published in the November 2014 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2014 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.

This is the second year I have not been drawn for early season moose. In terms of getting meat in the freezer, this is usually not a problem. We plan the draws in our hunting party to ensure that in most years someone gets drawn for moose. However, as sometimes happens, none of my early season hunting partners were drawn for moose, as the highest priority wasn’t high enough. So, we will fall back on our general deer and elk licences to get our wild game.

Alberta licences

So far, Alberta still has a good selection of general (non-draw) licences in many areas.

That is one of the advantages of hunting in Alberta, at least so far: there are still many general (i.e., non-draw) licences available, and not getting drawn for a particular licence is no big tragedy. However, the number of hunts under a draw increases each year, further limiting opportunities. The reasons are obvious: more people chasing a declining resource over ever-decreasing habitats.

On the Crowded Bush
For example, in November I used to regularly hunt for white-tailed deer in areas within an hour’s drive of my home. These are relatively wild areas found in grazing or natural reserves in which I only met a few hunters and saw enough game to keep me interested. Then about ten years ago, I began running into more hunters than I was comfortable being near, and I was seeing less deer. However, the coup-de-grace was when I came to my favorite spot, that used to teem with deer, to see the major game trails busted over with All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) tracks.

Now, I’m pretty sure most of that activity occurred during the previous summer, but the problem was those widened trails opened the bush to all kinds of human activity. Sure, it was a lot easier for me to walk those trails but I also ran into more hunters walking in the mornings and riding ATVs in the afternoon.

ATV trail

ATV trails invite increased human activity and drive away game.

I don’t have an issue with driving an ATV to a hunting area deeper in the bush or hauling game out of the bush. However, what I can’t understand is how anyone can figure he or she is hunting while driving an ATV. But that’s what I saw: people repeatedly riding around the trails looking as if they expected the deer to stand for them while they came over the ridge or around the bend, while any self-respecting game animal would have gotten out of the way. Several studies have shown that internal combustion engines run in wilderness areas drive game away, and I’ve seen it myself on several occasions.

In one instance, I was sitting on a small rise overlooking the intersection of two cutlines in a poplar forest. I was watching a group of does and their fawns slowly feeding their way down one of the cutlines. Then the does suddenly stopped feeding and all looked up the cutline. As if on signal, they all moved north disappearing into the bush. Within seconds of their leaving I heard the puttering of an ATV slowly getting louder. It soon appeared over the next ridge and started down the cutline in my direction. As it approached I stood up to announce my presence and the hunter waved as he passed me. With only an hour of legal time left, I knew I was hooped and abandoned my hunt for that day. It was shortly after that I decided not to hunt that area any longer.

I don’t blame hunters for using these machines. They are convenient and do allow you to get into areas you otherwise would not. However, when you get many of these machines in the same area they can be a problem for other hunters and the game. This crowding invites further restrictions and eventually leads to more hunts being placed under a draw.

On the New ESR(P?)D
It has to be tough being a Progressive Conservative in Alberta these days. After 43 continuous years of being in government, the party of Peter Lougheed has had some very rough sledding indeed: e.g., a premiere resigning in disgrace, a party leader elected by a low number of members bothering to vote, and a new premiere shackled with MLAs that allowed the problems to happen in the first place.

Likewise it must be difficult for the bureaucrats of the various departments affected by the new downsized cabinet. They have to once again reorganize themselves—putting aside much of their mandated work to do so. Such is the nature of ever-changing governments.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) certainly has not been immune to the change. It has a new minister (with no discernible ESRD experience); and as if the department wasn’t big enough, Parks and Recreation has been added to the portfolio.

When I first worked on contract for the Fish and Wildlife Division way back in the late 1970s, it was in a department entitled “Recreation, Parks and Wildlife”. That department didn’t last long as I soon found myself working for the division under the department of Energy and Natural Resources, just one of the many departments that have housed Fish and Wildlife over the years.

If there is a government agency that has moved more than Fish and Wildlife, it is Alberta Parks. Myopic governments just don’t know what to do with these services. To the politician that cannot see beyond his or her next mandate, parks and wildlife seem to get in the way of economic growth, especially if you believe the only real economic growth is based on the extraction of non-renewable resources and ignore the long-term economic benefits of having viable wildlife populations and the habitats that support them.

Of course, the Redford government finally took care of that problem with regard to the Fish and Wildlife Division. They eliminated it as an agency, melding its functions into something called “biodiversity” and a quagmire of administrative silos. Mind you, a lot of the work is still being done, we just don’t hear much about it anymore.

Now, the bureaucrats in ESRD must move over for those coming over from Parks and Recreation. Will they find a niche for parks? Or, as they did with fish and wildlife, will they break up the various jobs and spread them around the department, making it more difficult for the public to find someone with the authority to inform or act on any particular issue? I’m betting on the latter but only time will tell.

One thing is certain, according to the Minister’s Mandate, fish and wildlife is not a high priority with this Minister or government. No where in that document is fish or wildlife mentioned. What is listed is how resource exploitation will accommodate the environment—once again, a short-term viewpoint. Where is the direction to restore threatened species, improve biodiversity and increase opportunities for anglers, hunters and people who just want to see wildlife? As a government priority, fish and wildlife has fallen off the page.

But, it seems we can’t expect much better from this tired government. So, for now, I will partake of the opportunity I still have to hunt on a general licence.

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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