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Wildlife Group Opposes Riding Mountain Elk Cull

“They’re going in there and taking out healthy animals.”

– DALE GARNHAM, MWF

Manitoba hunters are up in arms over Parks Canada’s handling of a wildlife cull to control tuberculosis among elk in Riding Mountain National Park.

The Manitoba Wildlife Federation opposes the cull in principle but says if it has to occur, it shouldn’t be done by hunters on the ground, as Parks Canada proposes. It should be done from a helicopter, which was the original plan that has now been scrapped.

“We didn’t support the cull from the get-go. But if it has to happen, it should be done in a professional way,” said Dale Garnham, president of the MWF, which represents 14,000 hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts through its member groups.

DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

Allowing hunters into Riding Mountain National Park to shoot elk would set a dangerous precedent because hunting hasn’t been allowed in the park in over 60 years, Garnham said.

“Once you’ve set the precedent, how do you come back and stop and say we’re not going to allow it to happen again?” he asked.

Parks Canada lacks the manpower to patrol the park to keep out hunters. Allowing hunting even temporarily could open the floodgates to abuse, said Garnham.

“How would they be able to control any type of hunters from going inside the park once you’ve opened that option?”

But Ray Armbruster, a Manitoba Cattle Producers Associat ion di rector, said he wasn’t worried about a precedent.

“We believe this is a novel one-time event – part of a unique situation and not something that is going to be a traditional opportunity,” he said.

Armbruster farms near Rossburn, just southwest of the park.

HIGH RATES OF TB

Parks Canada said two years ago it would consider a wildlife cull in the western end of the park because of a persistently high rate of TB there. A trained helicopter team would conduct the operation.

Helicopters are already used to selectively capture animals in weighted nets dropped from the air, obtain blood samples and attach radio collars to them. If blood samples come back suspect for TB, the animals are tracked down, killed and tissue samples sent away for further testing.

Parks Canada extended the program with a non-selective kill to reduce the population in the western hot spot. A limited cull by helicopter occurred last year and Parks Canada was preparing for another one in February.

But the operation was called off when local First Nations objected to it, said Paul Tarleton, resource conservation manager for Riding Mountain National Park.

OBJECTIONS

Tarleton couldn’t say why First Nations objected to the helicopter operation. A First Nations spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

But Garnham said he understood First Nations still had meat from last year’s cull and wasn’t quite ready to receive more. Meat from uninfected animals taken in culls or surveillance is given to First Nations residents for their own use.

Parks Canada then offered a ground cull in which First Nations hunters would go into the park under supervision to shoot elk.

But that didn’t work out either. Tarleton said a February 25 discussion with First Nations representatives decided against a ground hunt because female elk were already calving.

Parks Canada may consider a selective cull again this fall after consulting with involved parties, he said.

Garnham said MWF isn’t against capturing animals by net and releasing them after blood sampling. But it opposes a non-selective cull of animals that aren’t sick.

“They were selectively taking out diseased animals before. Now they’re going in there and taking out healthy animals.”

NON-SELECTIVE

Cattle producers have long chafed at apparent delays in dealing with TB in the park’s wildlife herd. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency routinely inspects cattle herds around the park for the disease. Producers have urged federal and provincial authorities for years to deal with the root of the problem by culling animals within the park itself.

Tarleton said Parks Canada is committed to controlling TB in the park, despite the latest delay.

“We’re not backing off from the program,” he said. “We’re going to work with everybody to try to meet the objectives.” [email protected]

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