With the decline of hunter numbers over the years, a common complaint among hunters is that the government folks managing game populations are too often not hunters themselves. Well, that’s not the case here in Manitoba with our provincial Big Game Manager, Ken Rebizant. Ken grew up in the Komarno area and is a lifelong and passionate big game hunter. This passion come honestly as it has been passed down to him from his father, Joe, and two uncles, David and Thor. Ken puts his heart and soul into doing his best for moose, elk and deer, black bears and wolves.
Carly Deacon and I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Ken at his office to get an update on where things are at with this year’s winter big game surveys.
MWF: How much money do you have to spend annually on big game surveys?
KR: Manitoba’s Wildlife Branch has limited funds to annually conduct big game aerial surveys – $152,000 for big game surveys in general, and another $190,000 specifically for moose surveys.
MWF: How much does an aerial survey cost?
KR: Each survey costs between $70,000 – $100,000 and therefore there are funds to conduct 3 – 4 big game population surveys a year. These surveys are normally done on a GHA basis.
MWF: What was the original plan for big game surveys for this winter?
KR: For the winter of 2014/15, the Wildlife Branch originally planned to conduct the following surveys: moose in the Duck Mountains, moose in Porcupine Mountain, moose in GHA 26, deer in GHA 25A, and moose in Turtle Mountain.
MWF: We’d heard since the snowfall has been so low this year, it’s changed the plans. Why?
KR: We have a minimum requirement of 25 cm of snow on the ground before initiating an aerial survey so that we can effectively see the animals amongst the trees and deadfall. During January, when we often do the surveys, there was not sufficient snow in any of the planned survey areas to allow us to being our survey work. As well, since moose tend to move into heavier cover during February, we try to avoid starting moose surveys in February.
MWF: What’s the new plan for this winter?
KR: At the end of January, we reassessed where we were able to survey this year and came up with the following alternates: deer in GHA 25A, deer in GHA 22, deer in GHA 35 and moose in Turtle Mountain. A moose survey in Turtle Mountain could still be completed at this time of year since there is little coniferous cover there to impair visibility. There was not the minimum snow cover in GHA 35 by mid-February therefore that survey was cancelled and alternate surveys for moose in the Hayes River region and a caribou recruitment survey in GHA 3 will be flown.
MWF: How unusual is it in your experience to have to change your survey plans so much due to such a lack of snow?
KR: Very unusual. Maybe the most unusual winter for aerial survey conditions that I’ve ever seen.
The MWF thanks Ken for taking the time to update us on the status of this winter’s big game surveys.
It is the position of the MWF that we need greater investment in big game surveys in Manitoba. We also want to get more engaged in the big game survey planning process within government going forward. We are deeply concerned about the declines of big game in many parts of Manitoba, and having good population data is key to building a viable recovery plan. With so many significant conservation concerns surrounding moose, and in some areas, elk, there just isn’t enough funding presently to survey deer to the extent that is needed. The MWF believes alternative sources of data regarding the status of our deer population will need to be explored for those periods between when surveys can be done. If you have received a mail-out questionnaire from Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, we urge you to return that questionnaire via mail using the postage-paid envelop.
Rob Olson, Managing Director