It happens every year, and right on schedule, about mid-December this year, the discouraging word leaked of yet another Alberta government gaffe in the outdoors field that has conservationists gasping.
Unless this issue is laid to rest quickly, it will provide feature fodder for much ranting and raving at the mid-February annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association in Edmonton where a hot issue is always good for attendance.
It was in fact the AFGA itself, Alberta’s largest conservation group, that blew the whistle on this one, in a press release on Dec. 9 alleging that the government, behind closed doors and totally without public consultation, is discussing a major re-structuring of government departments “in a last ditch effort to save the struggling game farm industry in Alberta.”
The plot, according to the AFGA, is to remove all responsibility for game farming from the Department of Sustainable Resource Development in The Wildlife Act to the Department of Agriculture and thus open the door to hunt farms, where the operator is permitted to charge customers a fee (generally huge) to shoot a big game animal (generally Elk and generally also huge) within a relatively small area totally enclosed by an escape-proof fence.
Back in 2001 the same concept, then grandly called “cervid harvest preserves,” was defeated after a public uproar initiated by the AFGA and other conservation groups.
It should also never be forgotten that then Premier Ralph Klein famously stated publicly that there would be no killing of confined animals in Alberta “on my watch.”
Well, Ralph is gone and we now have Honest Ed and his band of bumblers, stumbling from mistake to stupidity, and, if what the AFGA says is true, legalizing hunt farms to prop up the failing game farming fiasco would be a truly monstrous error in itself and also simply because of the harm game farms, period, do to our wild deer and elk outside the fences.
Report after report, scientific paper after scientific paper connects game farms and ranches with the introduction and spread — in Alberta and elsewhere in North America — of Chronic Wasting Disease (the ungulate equivalent of Mad Cow Disease in bovines), a highly contagious and always-fatal prion disease of deer and elk.
“This is an outrage,” fumes AFGA president, Quentin Bochar, “and I hope it’s not true that the government is going behind everyone’s back to try and bail out a few individuals who made bad business decisions in the first place when they got into the game farm business. Game farms are just a bad idea as other jurisdictions are finding out and are indeed closing them down.”
Bochar encourages all AFGA members and the general public to contact their MLAs to get the truth behind this concern.
In fairness, it must be pointed out that it was the government that promoted game farming and encouraged people to get into it. Indeed, some government-connected people got in and out early, taking big bucks with them, just as happens in many other exotic breed promotions — and pure investment ponzi schemes.
The total lack of government response suggests the threat is real: one outdoors person who is also a professional government observer thinks it is. He bemoans the fact that the AFGA does not have on-line access to its 20,000 members in more than 100 clubs all over the province, in order to “carpet-bomb the MLAs with emails, which is why,” he adds, “they lost the grizzly hunt big-time and are now about to get their butts handed to them by the game ranchers.”
I’ve never been able to understand the clout with our politicians of a relative handful of ranchers in Alberta, even less, that of the few surviving game ranchers. Surely the right thing to do is end all game ranching and compensate those still in it. That would be the right thing to do and would cost a pittance compared with what CWD has cost us already and what it will go on costing us into the future. But this government has more trouble doing the right thing about game ranching even than the government that legalized it in the first place.
Even if you don’t share my view that closely confining wild animals is wrong — immoral — except to protect endangered species, then it was wrong, incredibly stupid of the government to ignore the warnings of respected scientists about the dangerous diseases that would be the certain harvest of game ranching.
But now, even to contemplate the close confining of wild animals, albeit selectively bred for big racks, bulked and boned with growth hormones and supplements, not for their protection, but so there is no way they can avoid being executed by fat, rich old guys with sick delusions of grandeur about what great hunters they are, is totally and offensively immoral to the majority of Albertans.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Alberta.