Legislation introduced last week to curb night hunting aims to put the public out of harm’s way while continuing to respect traditional hunting rights, Minister of Sustainable Development Rochelle Squires said last week.
On May 16 the province tabled Bill 29, the Wildlife Amendment Act (Safe Hunting and Shared Management) to set out regulations on night hunting particularly in southern Manitoba.
In the south, persons exercising an Indigenous right to hunt could continue to night hunt but only after obtaining a no-cost permit to hunt on yet-to-be approved public lands, and those areas will only be approved after input from adjacent landowners, local governments and communities.
Indigenous night hunting would mostly be allowed to continue in the north, but not near populated areas, nor from roads and highways.
“Our priority here is the safety of the Manitoba public. I believe this bill strengthens that safety while respecting traditional rights,” Squires said.
- Read more: Municipalities want action on night hunting
- Read more: Rural landowners complain shooting at night more frequent
The permits for continued night hunting on public land would only be granted “in certain circumstances where we can ensure there are no public safety issues or property issues,” she said.
The threat to the viability of the species being hunted would also be taken into account.
The government needed to take this action to reduce the significant risk posed by discharging firearms into the dark near where people are living, she said.
“We’ve heard from many landowners and people especially in agro-Manitoba who are especially concerned about the perils of night hunting,” she said.
First Nations’ rights
Under the current Wildlife Act, night hunting is unlawful in Manitoba for safety reasons, but the law currently does not apply to First Nation subsistence hunters. Night hunting is, however, unlawful for First Nations where Treaty and Aboriginal rights do not apply, including on private land without permission, provincial roadways and conservation closure areas.
Bill 29 defines night hunting as discharging a firearm at night and while using artificial lighting equipment to reflect the light from an animal’s eyes and can ‘freeze’ it in place.”
The Manitoba Wildlife Federation, which runs the province’s hunter safety program, has expressed grave concern about all hunters out at night with or without the use of spotlights.
“The practice of hunting at night in any fashion goes against everything we teach hunters about safety and fair chase,” said Brian Kotak, managing director of the MWF.
“It is impossible to know what is behind your target at night, and with bullets that are capable of travelling several miles, the consequences of missing your target can be very serious.”
In addition, targeting animals by blinding them with spotlights is inconsistent with humane and fair hunting practices taught and supported by the MWF, Kotak said.
Squires said consultations held with Indigenous populations over the past two years have shown opinion is “certainly divided” over the practice of hunting with artificial lights. Some say it is not fair to the animal and an unethical practice, she said.
Others fear a move to curb the activity is an infringement on their Indigenous rights.
“There are some members who do not believe in the practice of blinding an animal in the dead of night and killing because it’s an easy target,” she said.
“There are others who certainly do not want to see their rights eroded.”
The government takes these rights “very seriously,” Squires stressed, adding that the bill will additionally allow for creation of shared-management committees to bring Indigenous communities, landowners, hunters and outfitters together to make recommendations for conservation and management of wildlife in areas of concern. It also proposes a process to foster relationships and mutual understanding between Indigenous harvesters and private landowners to improve land access for Indigenous hunters to harvest on private land during the daylight.
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier said he especially welcomes those aspects of the bill.
“I think that will help increase communication on the landscape, especially in rural Manitoba,” he said.
However, what farmers have stressed in their own discussions — and laid out in resolutions — is that public safety can’t continue to be put at risk, he said.
“From a farmer’s perspective, this is a safety issue. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.
“If we don’t change a thing… and we have people in harm’s way what do we do with that? There’s got to be some middle ground there somewhere.”
Scott Phillips, an RM of Sifton councillor in western Manitoba, said he welcomes the legislation and hopes it brings an end to both the risks night hunting poses.
“There’s nothing that trumps safety,” Phillips said.
“And you don’t need to fire a gun at night to feed your family.”