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Ontario Government Develops “Nuisance” Wildlife Strategy

Summer 2008

Even though eco-tourism is the fastest growing outdoor activity in Ontario, the McGuinty government states the general public is becoming increasingly intolerant of growing wildlife populations, and is promoting lethal controls on wildlife deemed to be “nuisance” either through direct extermination programs or increased hunting opportunities.

The McGuinty government has released a new strategy to deal with human/deer conflicts in southern Ontario. While the Strategy for Preventing and Managing Human-Deer Conflicts in Southern Ontario is focused on deer, it will be applied to manage any so-called 'nuisance' wildlife issues.

Despite platitudes about the importance of wildlife to the ecosystem, the government strategy negatively portrays wild species as “nuisance animals”. Any species that poses a human health and safety risk, causes economic and productivity loss and negatively impacts societal and cultural values could easily be labelled “nuisance”. By this description most animals would be considered “nuisance” at some time.

The government also introduces the term “cultural carrying capacity”, which is largely used to describe the level of tolerance of the few people who come into conflict with those “nuisance” animals. While some people, such as orchard and vegetable farmers, may have legitimate concerns regarding wildlife eating their crops, statistics and surveys clearly demonstrate that farmers have a high tolerance level for wildlife on their land. (Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association 1.800.265.9751)

Regardless of the facts, the McGuinty government is proposing an extermination strategy that brings down the population of so-called “nuisance” wildlife to a level where they are no longer visible on the landscape. For example, a farmer from the Kemptville area south of Ottawa was permitted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to shoot 72 deer throughout the autumn of 2003 in defence of his property. While the Ministry would not confirm the total number of deer in the vicinity, it is most likely the farmer exterminated the local resident deer herd.

This is also true of coyotes. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources encourages the extermination of local coyote packs by linking farmers with local trappers. Trappers are paid for their services, and are allowed to sell the coyote pelts. The Ministry of Natural Resources, who is responsible for the management of wildlife in Ontario, keep no records of the number of coyotes killed by trappers and hired by farmers to exterminate 'nuisance' animals.

A similar “nuisance” wildlife program exists in the United States. According to an Associated Press published report in September 2005, the U.S. government killed more than 2.7 million so-called 'nuisance' animals in 2004 - more than five animals per minute.

Among the animals killed were: 75,674 coyotes, 31,286 beavers, 3,907 foxes, 397 black bears, 359 cougars, 191 wolves, 143 feral or free-ranging chickens, 72 wild turkeys, 3,263 double-crested cormorants 10,735 Canada geese, and 2.3 million starlings.

In Ontario, similar accounting of exterminated wildlife is not readily available even though Ontario has similar extermination programs. Ontario does use sport hunting as a method to significantly reduce 'nuisance' wildlife (game) populations. For example, in southern Ontario deer hunters are allowed to kill up to seven deer annually during the hunting season - far and beyond what an individual is likely to consume. Therefore the Ontario government has relaxed restrictions on donating deer meat to local food banks.

The next step in finalizing the 'nuisance' wildlife policy for Ontario is to develop an implementation strategy. The Ontario government has created a 'stakeholders' committee that will prioritize options for managing 'nuisance' wildlife. The strategy has already outlined a preference for increasing hunting opportunities as the most immediate and efficient method to deal with 'nuisance' wildlife, however there will be an opportunity to influence this process. Please check our website for further notices.

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