Do we set a proper example for others in how
we treat our fish and wildlife resources?

It is unlikely there is anyone reading this article who does not have individual concerns about the future of fish and wildlife resources in this province and elsewhere. We promote understanding the issues facing fish and wildlife management, sustaining viable populations and protecting sensitive habitats. We advocate the wise use of fish and wildlife, recognizing both consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife-related activities. Importantly, we promote ethical and responsible behavior in the use of these resources. Not every aspect is regulated, despite the fact that there are complaints about too much regulation. The presence of more laws reflects that our society is advancing, nothing more.

Non-consumptive Use

The trend toward non-consumptive use appears positive, as non-consumptive activities may involve everyone, while only a small proportion of people are actively involved in consumptive activities. However, as more and more people crowd into prime areas for non-consumptive activities, such as our mountain parks, their activities and the development of associated facilities to cater to them, threaten those ecosystems. On the subject of catch and release fishing, there are staunch supporters of fisheries management, people of unquestionable integrity, who regularly partake in this activity. However, at the same time, some people are catching and releasing literally hundreds of fish per outing, sometimes catching dozens of trout in one sensitive creek, or dozens of walleye in a lake with a collapsed fishery. With the reality that a percentage of fish die after being released, I find it astounding that some catch-and-release fishers feel their activity has absolutely no impact on the resource.

Consumptive Use

Then there are the more traditional uses of fish and wildlife, namely, the removal of harvestable surpluses using traditionally accepted methods of fishing, hunting and trapping. The historical purpose of hunting and fishing has been primarily for gathering food for human consumption. Today, hunting is largely a form of recreation, as opposed to a necessity. If we are to look at the current world viewpoint, a less-accepted purpose today is the harvest of fur-bearing animals. The regulated commercial take of these species is conducted for the purpose of selling pelts.

We can also look at those people with constitutionally protected rights to hunt and/or fish for food. The courts have ruled that those harvests are acceptable without regard to ethical behavior, as apparently those afforded those rights by the Constitution need not abide by laws governing the methods used. The courts have ruled that the government must show that any limit at all to their harvesting must be proven in several ways, primarily that a proven conservation need exists and that this limit has also been widely consulted. The courts have ruled that laws dealing with safety do apply to hunting by Indians, however, and certain lands are not accessible to them for hunting.

There are many private interest groups that have been formed to promote conservation and ethics in fishing and hunting. Other groups have been formed representing the interests of non-consumptive users. Interestingly, I have never heard of any of them seeking alliances with aboriginal groups on common interests of conservation and ethics.

Commercial fishing using gill nets is still a significant industry in this province. The harvest is limited to those holding licenses which are in limited supply, and fishing is restricted to specific lakes. Commercial fishing seasons are created with specific quotas for each species of fish per lake and these fisheries are closely monitored. Quotas for commercial fisheries are established for each lake in advance of the lake being opened, and if the quota for any species is reached, commercial fishing is closed for everything and all nets must be removed on short notice. So, given that gill nets can and do become lost (primarily because of shifts in ice) why is it that lots of other places in Canada do not allow gill nets made of monofilament to be used, while Alberta does? This material does not deteriorate when a net is lost and a gill net made of monofilament continues to kill fish long afterward.

Then we have trophy hunting. This term should not be confused, however. Big game animals are often pursued for their large antlers, horns or large body size. In the case of big game species, except bears and cougar, the edible flesh of any animal that has been killed by a hunter must be salvaged and protected from spoilage, even if the animal was taken for its trophy size. In the case of a bear or cougar taken by a licensed big game hunter, only the skin must be taken and preserved from being spoiled. Hunting big game animals for the purposes of securing large specimens (i.e. the "trophy") is largely conducted in the same general manner as animals hunted ostensibly for meat. For that reason, and the fact that this long-standing practice has been generally accepted, trophy hunting goes largely unnoticed.

Other Commercial Interests

The resources we speak of are exposed to a considerable number of other commercial interests. Widespread traffic in wildlife and wildlife parts has had a long history so we should not question that we are right in preventing, or at least severely restricting, the outright sale of fish or wildlife that has been taken from the wild for purposes that are not commercial, right? Right. However, the system is constantly bombarded by those who question various aspects of what is prohibited. I am amazed by the proposals that are made. If a wildlife part could be sold, for example, it is highly likely that someone has already attempted to make the case that they should be allowed to sell it.

Fish and wildlife service industries abound in this province. Notable are guiding and outfitting, taxidermy, tanning, fur dealing and fish processing establishments. All have clients that harvest wild resources; all seek profit. These industries are closely regulated and monitored because historically when they were not, profits lead to abuses. Is the regulation of these industries unreasonable? I submit that if people were all honest, it would indeed be unreasonable, as would many laws dealing with fish and wildlife.

The game production farming industry is one that has been the subject of considerable debate in recent months. The spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive deer and elk (no wild animals have been discovered so far with CWD in Alberta) have brought about downward market fluctuations in the industry. The laws governing game farming have since been under attack by a lobby to change the historic ban on paid hunting on these farms and that law has so far prevailed.

Another law in Alberta makes it illegal to charge access fees for hunting or to pay for them anywhere in the province. The exception is the hunting of certain upland game birds on licensed game bird shooting grounds. Those who would change the fundamental principles of wildlife legislation also regularly question this law. We maintain this law not for the purpose of preventing landowners from gaining profit, but to maintain free-ranging wildlife as a public resource, property of the Crown in the right of Alberta, free from being claimed by private interests. Maintaining the principle of public ownership of the wildlife resource is also questioned. Does this accomplish what was intended at the beginning? Just look to Europe for your answer.

Fish farming is another commercial activity that is regulated for the purpose of protecting wild fish stocks from introduced diseases, ensuring their genetic integrity and preventing the escape of undesirable exotic fish species. Are these risks real? What has whirling disease done to trout so far in rivers of the American west? What is the risk of introducing Asiatic grass carp to our waterways?

Gizmo Technology

Experienced hunters, please hold your breath. So now we reach the subject of average Joe, someone who has no real connection to any aspect except hunting or fishing for food and recreation. Joe has no further to go than to pick up a hunting or fishing magazine or to visit his local sport shop to test his ethics. Here he will become bewildered by a veritable smorgasbord of gizmos and nifty tricks that somehow are promoted to convince him that he can do better at hunting or fishing. Today, let us pick on the trade in bowhunting accessories. This increasingly popular method of hunting requires a hunter to get very close to game animals, something inherently difficult to do. One common bow hunting method is to wait by a game trail, hoping an animal will come by. Here Joe will find the trend is to convince him he must buy one of many varieties of custom made tree stands, some with collapsible ladders to assist the hunter in climbing the tree, others with cunningly designed steps that are latched on to the tree, some with ingenious parts that allow the hunter to ascend a tree by using a movable platform attached to his feet. These come complete with a safety belt.

Joe will find an array of deer scent lures designed to attract bucks that are seeking a mate. Most lures come with complete instructions on how to apply them either to the ground under his tree or to special canisters or sponges to hang nearby. He can dab his boots as well, presumably to ensure the scent of his footprints may not reveal him to the game. Full size decoys abound, as do commercially manufactured calls made for every conceivable circumstance.

Many products are advertised to keep the hunter from being detected by wary game animals. There is a whole industry specializing in camouflage clothing with new patterns coming out all the time. Special detergents are sold to wash them in and some come with special charcoal linings said to absorb odors that may frighten the game. At least one outlet markets a clothes-washing product to make a hunter invisible to reflecting ultraviolet light, as some deer researchers believe deer can apparently not see you as well if you do not reflect this kind of light. Camo clothing lines include head nets, face masks, gloves, boots, mosquito nets, camo packs, camo tape, face paint, you name it. Of course, there are complete clothing lines for each different terrain and whether or not there are leaves still on the trees or if there is snow.

Joe need not look far to find that the typical bow and arrow is nothing quite like what it started out to be. Manufacturers vie to convince consumers that each of their products is superior. One will find the trend is toward compound-cam bows, pre-camouflaged and adjustable as to poundage of pull and draw length. They are made using space-age lightweight materials and pulley systems using split limbs. There is plenty of room for a variety of attachments to be added.

Such bows are designed to be operated comparably to a more traditional bow having a certain poundage of pull, say 60 pounds. However, when drawing the string only partly back, the cams lighten the load by 40, 50 or even more than 80 per cent. A hunter may then hold the arrow back without strain, making it far easier to shoot. There are many fancy arrow rests to attach to the bow, some designed to be attached so the drawn arrow rests far further back (called an 'overdraw'). This means a much shorter (and thus lighter) arrow can be used. Lighter arrows fly faster. Few arrows made of wood are sold for any purpose other than target practice. Hunting arrows have advanced from being made of wood to fiberglass to aluminum to carbon, which is now becoming increasingly popular.

Arrowheads (commonly called broadheads) for big game come in varieties that can only be seen to be believed, many with detachable pre-sharpened blades, special cut-outs to fly better, and many weights are available to match arrows with specified stiffness designed to be used with bows set at specified poundages. Some broadheads have blades which are folded flat until the head strikes the game, then fly open and perform similar to other heads.

Special sights to attach to Joe's bow and string will assist him to aim at game at various yardages, compensating for the arrow's trajectory. Scopes are made for this purpose as well, as are special fiber-optic pins that radiate light, enabling the sights to be seen in low light conditions. Mechanical devices (called a release) will allow Joe to pull back the string and release it without using his fingers. Very common today are rangefinders that will allow Joe to zero in on a game animal to determine exactly how far away it is before shooting, greatly assisting in proper arrow placement. Other gizmos becoming popular are game finders, electronic devices that look something like a flashlight. These detect infra-red light, namely the heat from an animal. In particular, they are advertised to help the bowhunter find game that has run off after being hit as they can detect the heat from the animal from a distance of up to a few hundred yards, even through dense woods.

The above is only a short summary of even many more do-dads available for one kind of hunting. So the average person planning to go hunting or fishing today faces many challenges. How much technology is too much? How much should the government regulate?

"Wildlife is a replenishable Crown resource; it is incumbent upon the Government, as the resource steward, to ensure that appropriate use is made of the wildlife resource and that it is passed on to succeeding generations as it was received.

The primary consideration of the Government is to ensure that wildlife populations are protected from severe decline and that viable populations are maintained. By virtue of the fact that all fish and wildlife resources and the relevant legislation are the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Division, it is to function as the advocate within the government in the pursuit of this goal." [Quoted from the Wildlife Policy for Alberta (1982)].

Crafted by forward-thinking individuals, the 1982 policy can be seen as a cornerstone, and it acted as the benchmark for the new Wildlife Act that was subsequently passed in 1984. The 1984 Wildlife Act, in modified form, survives to this day.

Pat Dunford is a member of the Conservation Officers Association of Alberta in Edmonton.