After being stalled in the legislature by the Opposition Party, Bill 29, the bill that addresses night hunting and shared management, has started to move forward again. The Bill passed Second Reading last week, and the Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development heard presentations for and against the bill from organizations and individuals on October 31. With only 48 hours notice of the meeting, the MWF came prepared. There was clear support for Bill 29 from those making presentations on behalf of municipalities, the MWF, hunters and private landowners. There was no support from First Nation representatives who made presentations. We are hopeful that Bill 29 will go through Third Reading and receive Royal Assent (i.e., be made into law) this fall.
Read the MWF submission to the Standing Committee below:
Presentation and Written Submission on Bill 29 (The Wildlife Amendment Act) Dr. Brian G. Kotak, Managing Director
Manitoba Wildlife Federation
Submitted to: Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development October 31, 2018
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about our support of Bill 29. TheManitoba Wildlife Federation represents more than 14,000 hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts in the province. For 75 years, our organization has promoted the safe use of firearms and safe and ethical hunting practices. Bill 29 will better protect public safety, protect property and help conserve our vulnerable wildlife resources. Tonight we would like to address some specific aspects of Bill 29.
Protection of Public Safety, Property and our Wildlife Resources
First and foremost, this bill provides a much-needed mechanism to deal with the public safety issues surrounding the dangerous practice of night hunting. The sad statistics of hunters and even non-hunters being killed or injured by the use of firearms at night is tragic. How many near misses or actual incidents are not reported in those statistics? Sadly, we are speaking about people, not statistics. As hunters, it is our collective responsibility to ensure not only our own safety, but also that of others while we undertake our hunting traditions. Unfortunately at night, it is not possible to know who else is out there in the forest and field.
Our organization is responsible for administering the Manitoba Hunter Education Program. With more than 180 instructors, each year we teach a new generation of several thousand hunters and prospective hunters how to be safe and ethical hunters. One of the most important aspects of this training is for all hunters to correctly identify their target (that is, be sure you know what you are shooting at). This may sound pretty obvious, but when looking through a rifle scope at night, is what you are looking at a white tailed deer, or a mule deer? The difference is important, as one species can be legally hunted, the other is a threatened species in Manitoba and hunting is prohibited. Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious – especially in the dark of night. Equally important is to know what is behind your target. Even in an area that you are familiar with and may have hunted many times before ,it is impossible to know what is behind your target at night. It is far too easy to get turned around at night impossible to know if someone else is out there, if farm machinery has been moved around, or if livestock are now in a particular pasture or forest. Knowing your target and what is behind it is vitally important. Today’s firearms are powerful. When not handled safely, they are extremely dangerous. For example, according to ballistic information used in the Canadian Firearm Safety Course, the dangerous range of even a small calibre rifle cartridge such as a .22LR, is more than 1.6 km (1 mile). The dangerous range for larger calibre rifles used for big game species such as deer, elk and moose, is even greater – over 3 km for a .243 calibre, over 5 km for a .30-06 calibre, and over 5.5 km for a 7 mm Mag. These calibres are commonly used for big game species in Manitoba. This is why our Hunter Education instructors focus so heavily on the safe handling and use of firearms and why we teach that hunting at night is so dangerous and unacceptable.
In addition to the public safety aspect, damage to property, whether it is houses, barns, vehicles, agricultural equipment or livestock, continues to occur as a result of night hunting. Rural property owners and their assets are particularly at risk. Bill 29 is needed to protect property.
The populations of many of our wildlife species are declining throughout the province, especially moose and elk. Some populations are so low now that any level of hunting threatens their sustainability and existence. Night hunting is contributing to that decline, as well as preventing these populations from recovering. Enacting legislation that limits night hunting will help those populations.
Defining Where it is Safe to Hunt at Night
Our organization is concerned that night hunting will still be allowed in the province, even with the proposed restrictions. However, we do acknowledge that this Bill attempts to balance the rights of aboriginal peoples to hunt for sustenance, with the protection of public safety, property and our wildlife. In order to provide as much protection as possible under this legislation, the Manitoba Wildlife Federation insists that careful consideration be given when defining where it is safe to hunt at night, particularly in the southern zone. We are willing to take part in the process to identify safe night hunting areas and so are the knowledgeable Hunter Education instructors, the people we entrust to teach new hunters about safe and ethical hunting practices. We also agree with the complete prohibition of night hunting by all persons on private land.
Requirement for Night Hunting Permits in Southern Manitoba
Our organization supports the requirement that any aboriginal person who wishes to hunt at night in a designated night hunting area in the southern zone, must apply for and hold a valid, time and geographically bound permit.
Landowner Access Initiatives
We are pleased to see the acknowledgement of a need to facilitate dialogue between private land owners, aboriginal hunters, governments and other interested organizations to create mechanisms of granting written permission for safe hunting by aboriginal peoples on private land during daylight hours. This is an important initiative given the continual reduction in the amount of crown land available for hunting and trapping by aboriginal hunters in southern Manitoba over the last century or more. Many of our members are rural and private landowners, and we are very interested in being a part of that dialogue.
The Manitoba Wildlife Federation is very pleased to see the concept of Shared Management in Bill 29. This form of wildlife management is long overdue in Manitoba and is an important mechanism for interested parties to work collaboratively to ensure the sustainability of our wildlife resource. Several informal models of this management style already exist in Manitoba, such as the Committee for Cooperative Moose Management, and the East Side Lake Winnipeg Moose Matters Committee. Both committees forge partnerships and promote open dialogue between indigenous and licensed hunters. Both committees have also developed recommendations to government on rebuilding our moose populations in eastern Manitoba. These are well thought out recommendations, developed collaboratively and agreed upon by consensus. Shared Management Committees need to be developed now, whether these are new committees or utilizing members of existing ones. We desperately need the model to be implemented now, and the priority should be for regions of the province where wildlife populations are at risk or where these ad hoc committees have already been working for years.
Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the topic of enforcement. All legislation needs to be enforced. In the context of Bill 29, adequate enforcement means focusing on the priority areas. This means focusing on the geographic areas where our wildlife resources are declining or being prevented from recovering due to night hunting. However, focusing on the key geographic areas will not be effective if the human resources are not in place. We have seen a large decline in the number of Conservation Officers in the province over the last decade. Currently, there are too few Conservation Officers that are stretched too thinly across too large a geographic area.
Equally important is having courts and judges impose stiff penalties on those convicted. We have witnessed judges imposing minimal or no penalties. Last week, a provincial court judge sentenced 2 hunters convicted of spot lighting off a provincial road and in a an area closed to hunting. The judge’s sentence included returning their confiscated vehicle, imposing no fine, and told the hunters to go out and shoot 5 deer or a moose and provide the meat to their community. Is this a failure of the CrownAttorney? The judge? Both? What message is this sending to those hunters who break the law? What message does this send to our Conservation Officers, who risk their own safety as part of protecting our wildlife?
The reality of any new legislation is that it requires proper and effective enforcement and significant penalties to act as a deterrent. For Bill29, this is critical.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight about Bill 29. This is an important piece of legislation, not just to our members, but to all Manitobans and for our wildlife resources. The Manitoba Wildlife Federation looks forward to taking an active role in the implementation of Bill29. Thank you for your attention and this opportunity.