Have you ever been challenged by someone who doesn’t believe hunting contributes to conservation?
Most hunters are well prepared to answer by pointing out how licence fees directly fund wildlife management or our history of volunteerism for projects like the restoration of elk and wild turkey in Ontario. But there’s another role we play that is just as important: we generate much of the information that wildlife management needs to function.
All hunters are familiar with hunter reporting, from the old postcard surveys to the new mandatory reporting requirements. Information collected on hunter harvest and animal sightings is crucial for effective management by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and the OFAH’s goal of ensuring maximum sustainable hunting opportunities. This is only one of several ways hunters do their part.
Hunters routinely go above and beyond to ensure the MNRF gets the information needed to keep wildlife populations healthy and harvests sustainable. Two great examples are hunters submitting samples from deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD) surveillance and black bear teeth for ageing.
CWD is highly infectious, incurable, and 100% fatal to members of the cervid family, which includes white-tailed deer, moose, elk and caribou. It is almost impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. If it ever shows up in Ontario, our only chance is to catch it early and respond quickly. The province’s CWD surveillance system relies on samples that hunters provide from harvested deer. Without hunters we wouldn’t have surveillance. For more information visit www.ofah.org/cwd.
Black bears, meanwhile, are a long-lived, slow reproducing species. We need to be vigilant to make sure that harvest remains sustainable. According to the MNRF, 10% of Ontario’s black bears can be sustainably harvested every year. Of those, no more than 40% should be females and no more than 20% should be adult females. While the mandatory reporting provides the total harvest and the proportion of males and females in the harvest, it doesn’t tell us the age of harvested bears. The MNRF relies on bear teeth submitted by hunters to obtain that information. These teeth are sectioned, stained, and the rings are counted to determine age — just like a tree. Hunters who provide teeth are sent an Ontario Bear Hunter Crest and get to learn the age of their bear. Check the 2020 Hunting Regulations Summary (https://www.ontario.ca/document/ontario-hunting-regulations-summary) for more information. It’s especially important that resident hunters submit teeth in 2020 because the tourism industry has always provided the majority of teeth for ageing, and with the border closed, they won’t be able to contribute as much this year.
Hunters also support research projects. For the past several years, hunters, local fish and game clubs, and OFAH Zones across Ontario have been supporting, financially and through samples, a University of Guelph project looking at West Nile Virus in Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey (contact Dr. Amanda McDonald, firstname.lastname@example.org). Hunters were concerned about the health of wildlife and stepped up to help get answers. I saw this dedication first-hand when I was researching the response of deer to hunting pressure in eastern Ontario. I had GPS collars on deer and needed GPS data on hunter movements to compare. Dozens of local hunters volunteered to carry GPS trackers while hunting and also put them on their dogs, giving me exactly the information I needed. My project could not have happened without their support.
Finally, hunters regularly do their part even when there isn’t a reporting requirement, monitoring program, or research project. Hunters are the eyes and ears in the forest, swamp, or field. Based on experience, we know what’s normal and what’s not. This makes us ideal for spotting harmful invasive species or new cases of wildlife disease. If you do find an animal that is dead, sick or strange acting, you can report it to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (www.cwhc-rcsf.ca, 1-866-673-4781).
At the end of the day, we hunters are the boots on the ground, collecting information needed to make wildlife management work in Ontario. We should feel good about the contribution we make and not be shy about telling people about it. I’m certainly not.
Originally published in the Northern Ontario Outdoors Guide, July 2020