May 22nd is the International Day for Biodiversity and this year also kicks off May long weekend; a time when Turkey hunters are wrapping up their spring season, spring bear hunters are in the thick of it, and many anglers are planning fishing trips. This year’s biodiversity day theme is “we’re part of the solution” and during a weekend when many of us are outside enjoining nature, anglers, hunters, and trappers can reflect on how we are part of the solution for enhancing Ontario’s biodiversity.
Anglers, hunters, and trappers are incredibly passionate about Ontario’s fish and wildlife populations, as we rely on them so intrinsically for the activities we love to do. Not only do our licence dollars fund a significant proportion of fish and wildlife management in the province, but we also spend huge amounts of time and effort to understand the fish and wildlife we are pursuing. We strive for sustainably managed fish and wildlife populations and are the first to push for changes if we see cause for concern. The first people to notice if a fish population is changing are the anglers who devote hundreds of hours into understanding and being a part of that fishery. There are hunters who have spent as much, if not more, time thinking about the deer herd they hunt than many wildlife managers. And there are trappers who have trapped the same area for decades and know exactly what each furbearer population is doing in any given year.
That’s an example I can speak to personally. My grandpa became the registered trapper on our trapline in 1968, first using a Model A Ford to get around on the line. Once they were old enough, my dad and uncles began helping out with trapping and taking advantage of the area to fish and hunt. For all of them, the trapline became a sanctuary away from the “real world” and the destination to hunt moose and grouse and to fish for lakers and specks. As far back as I can remember my dad would take me to the trapline to fish, which eventually graduated into bird hunting. Getting my trapping licence so that I could participate in that too was a natural progression and easy choice. I have the opportunity to learn about the fish and wildlife populations in that area from my grandpa who has been involved with them firsthand for over 50 years. I am exceptionally invested in the sustainability and health of all the populations on the line so that I can pass these experiences onto the next generation.
My experience isn’t unique; angling, hunting, and trapping are often traditions passed from generation to generation and to be able to do that, fish and wildlife populations need to be robust and healthy. It’s not just the game species that we pursue that makes us invested in biodiversity – we understand that the species we buy licences to harvest would not exist if it weren’t for the species that provide them food and habitat. Because of this, anglers, hunters, and trappers are some of the most passionate people when it comes to preserving Ontario’s biodiversity. Which makes sense when you think about it — why wouldn’t the group that spends most of their free time, vacation days, and money on being out in nature want to take care of it?
HUNTERS AS A TOOL TO PROTECT BIODIVERSITY
Not only do hunters have a vested interest in keeping Ontario’s biodiversity thriving, but we support biodiversity by managing wildlife populations. For example, both deer and geese are prolific herbivores that can have negative impacts on soil, plant, and wildlife biodiversity where they feed. Deer over-browsing can negatively affect the diversity of plant communities, even leading to a change in soil composition and facilitating the establishment of invasive plants, while also reducing the available resources for other species. Snow Geese have become so overabundant in some areas that they are degrading the delicate tundra habitat that supports them during breeding which is having a negative effect on other arctic wildlife. By effectively managing these populations through hunting, the overall biodiversity in an area can increase, leading to ecosystem benefits to go along with the societal and economic benefits that come from hunting.
Deer hunters also help to protect Ontario’s biodiversity through Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surveillance. The MNRF relies on deer hunters to submit samples from the deer they harvest to monitor for CWD in areas of high concern. CWD is a huge threat to not only white-tailed deer but also moose, elk, and caribou. Ontario is currently CWD-free and the samples submitted by hunters allow for a rapid response if CWD is introduced into the province. The OFAH has been at the forefront of lobbying the provincial government for sweeping policy and legislation changes to limit the potential pathways for CWD to get into Ontario. We also work to increase the number of hunters who submit deer to the CWD surveillance program. Without the ability to sample deer populations every year through hunter harvest, there would not be robust CWD surveillance.
The OFAH and our members have been at the front of restoration and conservation initiatives for decades. We and countless volunteers from the outdoors community have been key in three major reintroduction events in Ontario – Wild Turkeys, elk, and Atlantic Salmon. Wild Turkeys and elk were both wiped out from Ontario due to habitat loss and unregulated harvest. In the 1980s, the OFAH became a partner in the reintroduction of Wild Turkeys to Ontario and in the late 1990s, we joined the Elk Restoration Program led by the MNRF to recover this species through reintroductions. Both species have now recovered to the point where regulated hunts are occurring in areas of the province, allowing Ontario to benefit from not only the ecological gain of having these species back on the landscape but also their social and economic benefit. In addition to elk and turkey, the OFAH is working on reintroducing the Atlantic Salmon to Ontario waters through the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program (LOASRP). The LOASRP has been described as a cornerstone of the province’s biodiversity strategy, and the signs are there that the program is succeeding in restoring Atlantic Salmon to Lake Ontario and its tributaries. The work that the LOASRP does also improves stream habitats to benefit all aquatic biodiversity in those areas.
The OFAH also works very hard to conserve and improve Ontario’s biodiversity through programs such as the Invading Species Awareness Program (ISAP) and ALUS Peterborough. Invasive species and habitat loss are two of the biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide, and these programs aim to minimize the impacts of both.
Since 1992, the ISAP has been educating the public on the threat of invasive species, how to identify them, and how to report sightings. In addition to the key role we play in early detection and rapid response, the ISAP has also been managing water soldier with the goal of eradicating it from our waterways. The OFAH has also been the main voice pushing for the Ontario government to establish a wild pig control program. We recognized that wild pigs would be detrimental to Ontario’s biodiversity, and pushed the government to do everything they can to ensure we do not get an established population of wild pigs.
Like its counterparts across the country, the ALUS Peterborough program is working with farmers to incentivize them to convert marginal farmland into habitat and to alter their farming practices to benefit wildlife populations. This is done through establishing acres of native prairie, pollinator habitat, reforestation, enhanced and expanded riparian areas, nesting structures, and fencing around waterbodies, as well as creating, restoring, and enhancing existing wetlands.
Through our conservation programs and our policy work the OFAH strives to ensure the conservation of Ontario’s fish and wildlife, their habitats, and the ecosystems that support them, to ensure sustainable benefits for all Ontarians. Whether it is by being the eyes and ears on the ground, paying attention to fish and wildlife populations, or by funding restoration and conservation programs through their OFAH membership dollars, the angling and hunting community is at the core of preserving Ontario’s biodiversity.