A vanishing provincial treasure

Many outdoors persons would have no interest in the fascinating combination of democracy and politics that is the Alberta Fish and Game Association, but it would be worth their time and very little cost to obtain a day pass to attend the Friday sessions of each annual AFGA conference for the Fishing, then the Hunting Report.

More endangered than ever

More endangered than ever

Many outdoors persons would have no interest in the fascinating combination of democracy and politics that is the Alberta Fish and Game Association, but it would be worth their time and very little cost to obtain a day pass to attend the Friday sessions of each annual AFGA conference for the Fishing, then the Hunting Report.

Since Alberta fish and wildlife/sustainable resource development ceased publication many years ago of the excellent reports of their then large and superb staff of biologists, the only way to find out what is happening in and to Alberta’s fish and wildlife is to see and hear the excellent power-point presentations during the AFGA conference’s Hunting and Fishing reports of the few biologist and other specialist we have left.

This year, during the Fishing Report, SRD biologist Dave Park, had little to say about Sportfishing regulation changes which are now being done on a two-year basis, and this is a “down” year; read: even less than usual is happening regarding fisheries management initiatives.

Otherwise, Park had good news for one Alberta species and very bad news for another. For the first time ever, SRD seems to be outright proclaiming the recovery of Alberta’s most popular game fish, the walleye, and also by opening more lakes to tag-season harvests.

At the same time, there is still nothing on opening recovered rivers, such as the Red Deer tailwater, to some walleye harvest, meaning it remains a great fishery, totally reserved for lawbreakers, a poacher preserve.

The bad news Dave Park delivered was that, despite a province-wide zero limit for many years, bull trout are in continual decline.

“Why haven’t bull trout recovered like walleye have recovered?” Park asked, and answered with a list and litany of habitat loss and destruction: “more roads, more seismic lines, more tree cutting, more access, more ATV traffic, more silt, warmer waters . . . ”

“Warm waters are deadlier to bulls than to any other species,” Park said, and mentioned elevation refugia: bull trout have more efficient metabolisms in higher, colder waters, just where the most damage is being done. “Bull trout need more help than they are getting, right now,” Park concluded, “and our view of bull trout still needs to change.”

Dr. Margo Pybus, Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist, always incisive and even outspoken, gave her annual report on the discouraging westerly progress in Alberta of Chronic Wasting Disease, an always fatal prion disease of deer. She did report one slight “political” gain: “The Saskatchewan people at a recent workshop, for the first time ever, admitted that they are the source of CWD in Alberta.”

Since 1998, with 2010 tests not quite completed, Alberta has tested nearly 40,000 deer heads and has found 91 cases of CWD in Alberta since 2005: 82 in mule deer, nine in white tails; 61 males and 30 females.

Mule deer, and particularly mule deer bucks, have significantly greater CWD contact rates, Dr. Pybus suggested, because mule deer are in larger herds than white tails, are generally closely concentrated in rugged terrain, and the infections seem to run in family groups.

Dr. Pybus reported that early stage CWD infections are being found further west than ever, and that the spread seems to be along watercourses, particularly the South Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers. “The spread will continue,” Dr. Pybus says, “in the absence of some program of control.”

For the first time in at least a decade, we have a bird game specialist in Alberta, Jason Caswell. He is a grouse specialist, so it is not surprising that he announced wide-spread season closures on sharp tail grouse.

Again, for the umpteenth consecutive year, not a word on pheasant or Hungarian partridge, those introduced species on which the bulk and best of Alberta’s upland game hunting is based.

Biologist Rob Corrigan reported that the possibility that crossbows might become legal for use during archery seasons “got more comment than anything else I’ve done,” with 37 per cent in favour, 44 per cent against, and 19 per cent, no opinion. He made no comment on whether the crossbow initiative will make it this year. Corrigan did say that the minister had signed off that morning on this year’s hunting regulations.

Alberta’s slowly opening secret is the huge elk herd and monstrous bulls in the Suffield Military reserve, so many hunters should be watching for antlered and antlerless elk seasons in the Suffield Block vicinity.

But what truly excites me is news about two of my peskiest varmints. First, residents of private land may now take red squirrels on that land all year without the former necessity of a resident trappers’ licence.

Finally there seem to be some recognition that we have too many cougars and of the danger they are in settled areas. So the proposal is an end to “shoot, shovel and shut up,” with a season when a landowner with a licence may hunt cougars without dogs and keep the carcass.

Squirrels? Cougars? Who needs deer licences this fall?

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.