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OFAH and NOTO back wolf, coyote plan

Sault This Week,
Bob Mihell,
February 9 2016

Two of Ontario’s biggest advocacy groups for wilderness outfitters, and anglers and hunters have thrown their support behind the province’s proposal to lift a seal tag requirement to hunt timber wolves in Northern Ontario.

Mark Ryckman, a senior wildlife biologist with the not-for-profit Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said from Peterborough the umbrella group has lobbied the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for quite some time to make changes to wolf and coyote population management.

“These changes will be welcomed by hunters by reducing some of the existing barriers,” he said.

Laurie Marcil, executive director of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario, that advocates on behalf of about 245 wilderness tourism operators in the province, the majority in the north, said her organization supported dropping the additional seal requirement for hunting wolves because it represented a significant cost deterrent to non-resident guests of their tourism operators.

The separate wolf seal tag, as reported Feb. 4 by Sault This Week, costs $11 for Ontario residents but a whopping $272 for out-of-province hunters. While the MNRF proposal would ease the cost to hunters, the hunting season would remain unchanged, as would the two-wolf limit.

Marcil said the plan, if approved, would provide more hunting opportunities in combination with other game for outfitters’ guests, especially because the the MNRF has cut the number of moose tags issued to tourism operators in response to concerns about dwindling moose populations.

Marcil stressed that NOTO was very conscientious about educating its members about the importance of maintaining the long-term sustainability of wildlife game, and that outfitter operators and hunters were responsible in following provincial regulations.

When it comes to explaining declines in moose population in certain parts of the north, a variety of factors are at play besides an increase in wolf predation, she acknowledged. She agreed also the MNRF did not have evidence-based data on moose or wolf populations in the north She blamed cuts in funding from the province for the situation.

“The MNRF does not have data, even on the moose side. That is the state of reality now.”

NOTO has pushed for increased MNRF funding around provincial budget time to improve regulation enforcement, and for more biologists on the ground for wildlife data collection, Marcil said.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence comes from from hunters, who say “they feel like they are being watched by the wolves when they’re out in the bush now”.

Asked if those kinds of comments fuel old attitudes that wolves are ruthless killers who stalk human prey, which led to the slaughter of wolves in most of the United States, Marcil said hunters do not feel threatened by wolves today. Rather, it supports a general sense that the wolf population is growing.

NOTO participated in a number of focus groups along with trappers, OFAH, first nation representatives, tourism operators and environmental groups arranged by the ministry leading up to the proposed hunting changes, she said.

“Everybody collectively gave recommendations to the MNRF, and a lot of us were on the same page,. But when the MNRF came back with its final proposals, they missed the mark on quite a few things.”

NOTO strongly recommended, as one example, shortening the moose season, especially off the back end, because as the snow falls and the moose start to herd up they are easier to track and the success rate for hunters is so much better.

“It makes no sense to us to keep the season as long as it is, as far as tourism operators are concerned, since they are not even open then,” Marcil said.

“Our greater concern right now is that they’ve made a change on top of a change on top of a change, so we don’t know what is benefiting the moose population.”

While some of those changes are beneficial, she said, such as dropping the number of moose tags, and cutting the calf hunt to two weeks, others like changing the archery ratio, and providing more cow than bull tags make little sense.

“If our moose populations are in trouble, why are they allowing more cows to be harvested?” she asked. “As far as the tourism industry is concerned, that just goes against the grain, and it is very hard to sell a cow tag versus a bull tag.”

What NOTO would like to see happen now is for the MNRF “to take a deep breath before they make any more knee jerk reactions and changes. Let’s just slow down and see what happens, observe, and then review.”

Meanwhile Ryckman said OFAH did not couch its push for easing hunting restrictions on wolves because of reported declines in moose population.

He noted, although moose population declines are real, not enough science-based evidence supports a conclusion that wolves are a primary reason.

The decline in the moose population in different areas of the north has occurred for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with increased human activity such as logging, he said.

OFAH would like to see no limit on the number of wolf harvested in a season, Ryckman said.

Almost all hunters are after big game like deer, moose and bear, but might buy a wolf seal for “opportunistic” chances at wolves, he noted.

OFAH does not think that relaxing the rules for the wolf harvest would alter the behaviour or preferences of the majority of hunters, Ryckman said.

In response to questions from the newspaper, the MNRF wrote back that anyone who missed an opportunity to express their viewpoint on the Environmental Registry still could do so by emailing the Ministry at mooseproject@ontario.ca.

Regarding concerns expressed by Ontario Nature, which has called for the government to scrap the proposed changes because the rationale and data are flawed, and wolves are being used as a “scapegoat”, the MNRF wrote back, “Many factors affect moose populations. Wolves do prey on moose under certain circumstances, and moose and wolf populations are generally aligned.”

The ministry added: “The proposal maintains harvest controls for wolves in Northern Ontario and isn’t expected to result in significant increases in wolf harvest or increases in moose populations broadly, but may provide benefit to moose populations in specific circumstances where moose populations are well below expected carrying capacity of the habitat in an area.”

As for concerns that the ministry does not have any science-based numbers on wolf or coyote populations in the north, it replied, “The most recent wolf populations estimates were published in the Ontario Out of Doors article: grey wolves and hybrids, 8,500, eastern wolves, 500, coyotes, undetermined but far more abundant than wolves.”