The slaughter of big game and livestock by night hunters in western Manitoba isn’t abating despite triple the number of illegal hunting charges compared with previous years. Two more purebred cattle were shot and killed on farms north of Virden Monday and Tuesday night, allegedly by night hunters. It’s suspected the cattle were mistaken for big game and shot accidentally. “It’s almost like the Wild West show in areas of rural Manitoba,” said Diane Woodworth, chief administrator for the Municipality of Brenda-Waskada in southwestern Manitoba.
Woodworth was referring to nighthunting using spotlights to blind animals so they make for an easy kill and hunting on private property without permission. Those two infractions usually go together. Landowners in southwestern Manitoba are hearing shots at 2 a.m., headlights or spotlights flashing across their windows, and finding damaged fields, bullet holes in equipment and dead farm animals the next morning. That’s in addition to finding big game carcasses. Woodworth said her neighbours recently found a three-year-old moose gutted on their property. “We’ve got guys gutting deer in the middle of our cows, and they didn’t have permission,” she said.”These guys come out (at night) and drive around farm fields in their half-ton trucks around every bluff. Honking their horns is their idea of pushing bush,” she said.”I’m not against hunting. I like to eat meat. But I want everyone to give the game a sporting chance,” she said.
Sixteen representatives from four municipalities on the west side of the province voiced their concerns in a meeting late Tuesday with Sustainability Minister Cathy Cox at the annual meeting of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. The group was allotted half an hour and were pleased when Cox gave them a full hour. The four municipalities were Sifton, Whitehead, Grasslands and Souris-Glenwood. At issue are property rights, safety and the threat to wildlife, especially moose. Moose are on the verge of extinction in southwestern Manitoba, said Scott Phillips, councillor for the RM of Sifton. He blames illegal night hunting. “The moose are going the way of mammoths. They’re going to be gone. They’re going to be mythical creatures in our province,” Phillips said.
Cox told the Free Press her department has taken several measures against illegal hunting, including relocating extra officers into problem areas for enforcement. “We’ve had more blitzes, more air surveillance, and we’ve increased decoy operations,” she said. “We’re really out there, and it’s really a concern for us.” That has resulted in 41 charges for illegal hunting and the seizure of 12 vehicles. Charges for the previous nine years average just 14 per year.
The group that met with Cox is seeking actions on three fronts: eliminate all night hunting, ban moose hunting in southwestern Manitoba for five years to allow the population to recover and add wildlife respect and hunter education to the public school curriculum.
Cox said her government plans to enhance public safety, develop an awareness program and enter formal consultations with interested parties about what more can be done. Stepped-up enforcement could put the province on a collision course with Manitoba First Nations. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak issued a statement this month threatening a court challenge if treaty members are charged for hunting on private land. Nepinak suggested First Nations rights supersede the rights of property owners. “The settler community needs to understand the limits of notions of private property in treaty lands,” Nepinak said in the prepared statement. “The concept of private property is limited by Crown obligations not only to pay taxes on the lands under title, but also to not interfere with indigenous treaty hunters in the carrying out of their vocation of hunting safely,” he said. Cox stressed there will be consultations with all parties, including First Nations, before any action is taken. Phillips said hunting complaints are not directed at First Nations people. The Supreme Court has ruled they have both the constitutional right to hunt without a licence and to hunt at night. Phillips said illegal hunting spiked when the oilpatch was booming.
Night hunting is extremely dangerous. Two indigenous men have been accidentally shot and killed by friendly fire in recent years. Most recently, a 24-year-old man from Sioux Valley First Nation was fatally shot by a member of his hunting party. A fellow hunter shot the young man, who had gone onto private property to hunt without the landowner’s permission. A man from Sagkeeng First Nation was killed by gunfire while hunting several years ago.
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