As promised in the last issue, lets talk about another major pillar in the Federations success going forward. This pillar is the work we devote to policy change and advocacy. MWF’s strongest assets within policy change and advocacy is the power of our membership. The power of 14,000 people standing behind a resource, advocating for its protection and it’s sustainability. This voice is how we get the governments ear to make needed management, policy and regulation changes in the province. The second strongest asset is having elected officials that relate to our hunting and angling traditions and understand how important it is to sustain the resources we all share. Well, the stars have aligned, we have outstanding leaders in the new government Department of Agriculture and Resource Development and MWF has developed great relationships with those leaders. However, as strong as those leaders are the MWF feels they are lacking the staff they need to execute effective change or management plans. Staff positions have been taken away over the last 20 years with a substantial number of vacancies in the fish and wildlife department being left unfilled. Our time to look at our priorities and work closely with the government to deliver improvements and change is now, but without technicians, biologists, resource managers and enforcement officers, we lack the ability to execute or enforce these management plans. MWF’s number one priority is to see government staff vacancies filled. This is the biggest crack in our foundation. This will support change for the province – especially in areas of Shared Management for moose and the sustainability of the Lake Winnipeg Fishery. One of MWF’s major obligations is to represent our membership and fight to see positive regulation changes, favorable hunting/fishing opportunities and good management plans for the protection and sustainability of wildlife. So, lets dive in and explore a few of the larger advocacy files MWF is pushing – Shared Management, Lake Winnipeg Fishery and Wildlife Management Areas.
Shared Management (Moose)
The concept of shared management applies to all species in Manitoba, as well it should apply to our strategy going forward with the Lake Winnipeg Fishery. For now, we are concentrating on our dwindling moose populations and looking for a management plan that would allow us to re-open moose closures on the East and the West sides of the province. Shared management requires a collaboration of all invested stakeholders such as Licensed Hunters, Metis, First Nations, Lodges and Outfitters, etc. to work together on developing a management plan that will ensure the sustainability of moose. MWF is pushing the government to hire a 3rd party negotiator that will have the ability to bring all parties to the table and develop an effective management plan. Again, we need to see department staff in place to ensure delivery of this management plan, identify scientific gaps and improve survey data. This management plan will only be effective if we have bodies on the ground to enforce regulations – more enforcement is imperative to shared management. MWF currently sits on the East Side Moose Matters Committee, the West Side Moose Advisory Committee and the Western Region Elk Management Committee. The momentum created around a new shared management approach to moose management has gathered support of our clubs in the province and initiated a new club in Swan River that has exploded with individuals representing a variety of interests around wildlife, conservation, tourism and logging.
Lake Winnipeg Fishery
It has become clear that over the last 50 years the Lake Winnipeg Fishery (specifically Walleye) but also Sauger and Whitefish has suffered due to the lack of proper fisheries management. The Lake Winnipeg Fishery is faced with similar challenges as managing moose and requires a collaborative effort from all the stakeholders involved using the shared management model. These stakeholders have deep investments in the resource and the loss of the fishery could have substantial implications on their livelihoods, traditions, businesses or means of sustenance. One of the largest implications, and one that has become front and center with our current government, is the implications a fisheries crash could and would have on our provincial economy. In 2018, the MWF with our partners conducted a research study (using Probe Research) on the economic value of Lake Winnipeg’s Walleye Fishery. Over a two-year span, this incredible fishery has lured 100,000 anglers (residents and non-residents) to take in Lake Winnipeg’s exceptional fishing opportunities, generating $102 million in net economic activity in the province. MWF sees a parallel relationship between the fisheries economy and the science that supports its sustainability. If we do not trust the science and fix the problems that are creating the decline in populations, the loss of our valued fishery would be a blow to all Manitobans. MWF is eager to see all the stakeholders reconvene and work collaboratively on a management plan that protects the resource so our economy and resource users can continue to share the opportunities that the Lake Winnipeg Fishery provides. Going forward, MWF has been working with the government to ensure they fulfill a second round of quota buy back and assess commercial net size requirements needed to sustain a healthy fishery. At the beginning of January, we also brought together representatives from MLOA, WAAM, FAAM, Hooked Magazine, CWT and Fish Futures to gather support from the angling community and strengthen communication around the importance and value that this fishery brings to our lifestyles, the economy and all Manitobans. Every group around that table expressed a unanimous desire to work with all Lake Winnipeg stakeholders and committed to exploring any regulation changes brought forth by government that helps ensure a sustainable fishery for future generations to share in.
Wildlife Management Areas in Manitoba
Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) are parcels of land, designated by the Minister under the Wildlife Act, that have been set aside to protect critical wildlife habitat and enhance trapping and hunting opportunities. Compared to other hunting areas in the US, Manitoban’s are fortunate to still have access to crown lands, WMA’s, parks and private lands (with permission) to hunt. Although landscapes are changing at unprecedented rates. Smaller farms are being bought up by larger commercial farms and hunting access has become more competitive and intimidating for individuals that do not own land. WMA’s are open to hunting and trapping (with a few exceptions) and if maintained and managed, are an important resource for the government, MWF and our members. The MWF would like to see our WMA’s better managed, maintained and marketed to the public to increase their ecological function and increase utilization. Access has been proven to be one of the biggest deterrents for new hunters. We would like to see easier access into the WMA properties, accessible maps, better signage and marked boundaries, upgraded infrastructure, and government staff to implement management strategies to improve wildlife habitat and abundance. The MWF has brought these concerns and ideas to the Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development and is looking for way to access funding to help with this initiative. In the meantime, MWF plans to do monthly features showcasing various WMA’s and provide people with information to help outdoor enthusiast access these properties.
I found it difficult to summarize these files because the behind the scene work on influencing policy change is mind blowing. I’ll also add that these three are not the only files we have on the go. MWF also has their hand in efforts and communications around Chronic Wasting Disease and Firearms Policies. The Federation has the power right now to effect change. We have the strength in numbers, the advantage of a skilled team of staff at the MWF, with an Interim Executive Director (Chris Heald) leading our advocacy and policy initiatives. Chris has endless horsepower, the patience of a gnat (this is a good thing as we want to see change in the foreseeable future), and the very rare talent of knowing how to navigate through politics by building relationships and not taking no for an answer. We also have great leaders in our government that understand the value of our hunting and angling traditions. The stars have aligned, this is our window to see positive change for the management and sustainability of our resources going forward.