Scott Phillips didn’t mince words voicing his frustration at last week’s municipal convention about the night hunting that continues unabated in rural Manitoba.
“Are you going to ban night hunting and are you going to do it right now?” the councillor from the RM of Sifton at Oak Lake asked an assembled provincial cabinet, during the Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention.
“Manitoba needs an instant ban, on all groups night hunting, today,” he said.
That was last Tuesday morning, just as word was spreading of two more losses by cattle producers near Virden, allegedly shot by night hunters the night before.
There soon won’t be any more moose left in southwestern Manitoba, Phillips told the forum. “We used to have 200 to 300 moose in western Manitoba. Now we’re down to a handful. I can send you pictures of moose shot and carcasses left… it’s a disgrace.”
Those driving around with high-powered rifles looking for big game think they’ll get away with it, knowing there are so few conservation officers in the area. There are just two conservation officers assigned to about 10,000 km, he said.
“How would the City of Winnipeg like to have two cops for the entire city?”
Minister of Sustainable Development Cathy Cox replied, saying the province is committed to curtailing unsafe and unsustainable hunting and fishing activities.
“I have heard from hunters and municipalities and stakeholders often with regard to this,” she said. “We are going to be developing new hunter safety programs together with hunters and indigenous people just to ensure that they’re aware of the real concerns with regards to night hunting,” she said. “We are going to develop regulations together with stakeholders.”
To tackle the immediate problem, Cox said they have stepped up conservation patrols, relocating conservation officers to target areas.
“We’ve also increased air surveillance to ensure we’re able to find more night hunters. Conservation officers are working hard and putting their life on the line,” she said, adding those efforts have resulted in 38 persons convicted of night hunting and 20 vehicles confiscated.
Phillips said later a ban on spotlighting can’t come soon enough. The amount of illegal activities for hunting and fishing is just disgusting, he said.
“Halloween night there were two deer shot in the night. Our grader operator came on them in the morning. They were skinned just enough to get the backstraps off and the rest wasted.”
Another buck shot and left to rot was discovered left in a field just three days later, he said. It’s also appalling to see the high volumes of fish taken at sites like the Souris dam. People take home pails and pails of young fish and do so because they either don’t know that’s illegal, or they don’t care, he said.
“Extremely ignorant and they’re just ignoring the rules,” he said.
He and other municipality leaders — 16 from four municipalities, Sifton, Whitehead, Grasslands and Souris-Glenwood — met later for an hour with Cox to discuss the problem.
The discussion left them heartened the province is taking this issue very seriously, he said. It included not only Cox, but the deputy minister, the chief conservation officer, a conservation lawyer and two administrative staff.
According to the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, big-game hunting in Manitoba is in crisis, with populations of moose, elk and caribou under siege, and night hunting putting hunters and rural Manitobans at risk.
However, Manitoba currently has no management plan or structure in place to deal with constitutionally protected Aboriginal hunting rights.
Rob Olson, MFW managing director told the Co-operator last month that until the province begins working on that it cannot move ahead to ban night hunting.