Elk, cougars on the AFGA agenda

One of the best parts of an Alberta Fish and Game annual conference is what you learn in the hunting and fishing committee meetings from presentations by Alberta’s few remaining fish and wildlife biologists about what they are up to and what regulation changes you might expect in the coming fishing and hunting seasons.

One of the best parts of an Alberta Fish and Game annual conference is what you learn in the hunting and fishing committee meetings from presentations by Alberta’s few remaining fish and wildlife biologists about what they are up to and what regulation changes you might expect in the coming fishing and hunting seasons.

Environment-Sustainable Resource Development Minister Kyle Fawcett himself got into some of that in his speech to delegates, predicting that there will be increasing opportunities in 2015 to harvest elk and moose in the agricultural Wildlife Management Units where both species are thriving.

Regarding fisheries, the minister said “we are moving forward with plans to stock new trout species in response to requests for broader sport fishing opportunities.” The brown-brook hybrid, the tiger trout, is often mentioned as a “species” to try.

Delegates were also treated to the premiere of Wildlife Trust Fund co-ordinator Brad Fenson’s new video You Can’t Afford Not to Be a Member, outlining what the AFGA does for us all, including particularly the saving of 42,000 acres of critical habitat and recreational lands all over the province. Fenson tells me that this excellent production will soon be running on the AFGA website, www.afga.org, for all to enjoy.

One of the priorities of new AFGA president Wayne Lowry is to improve communications with the members and the public through improvements and adjustments to the website. Also, mere days into Lowry’s presidency, the website is featuring the first the organization has had to say on the CFB Suffield Elk cull, decrying its lack of fairness and equity to Alberta’s resident hunters.

Delegates debated and dealt with four dozen resolutions. Among my favourites from the passed resolutions was this:

“Be it resolved that the Alberta Fish and Game Association request that Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development increase the cougar harvest quotas in many, if not all, cougar management areas.

“Brief: The current cougar harvest regime is designed to provide trophy quality animals for harvest.

The majority of Alberta’s hunters would like to see a better balance between trophy quality and hunter opportunity, as well as a reduction in predation levels on ungulate populations. Many of Alberta’s mountain and foothill WMUs are being significantly impacted by predation. A reduction in cougar numbers may help increase ungulate populations.”

One cause of the cougar population explosion was designating them a big game animal decades ago. Reader Dwight Rodtka, a Stump Ranch neighbour, explains one of the ways that works to cause too many cats.

“Cougar numbers were much lower when I hunted them for bounty, and only started to increase when hunting them became popular and we began selecting the mature toms for execution [sitting in a tree]. Cougars are like house cats, with toms steadily killing kittens and unwilling smaller females. I have seen it many times. We have short-circuited this control now and it’s likely irreversible unless trophy hunters are willing to kill smaller animals.”

Because the AFGA conference theme this year (Youth — The Link to the Future) Minister Fawcett noted in his speech that the largest increase in AFGA membership is in the family category, “which means that many more young people are participating in your activities … and I applaud your efforts to encourage more young people to put down their electronic toys and get out and enjoy our world-renowned backyard.”

The AFGA is a huge (25,000 member) family in itself, with constant links to its past. It is a unique organization in the way it benefits from its “elders;” 17 of its past presidents are still living, and nine of them are very active in supporting and working hard for the organization.

At the closing conference banquet, two past presidents were honoured: Vern McIntosh (1995-97), of Ardrossan, received the Fulton Trophy, the AFGA’s highest award, and Don Hayden (1979-81), of Pincher Creek, received a special award recognizing his recent donation of three quarter sections of land in Northern Alberta to the association’s Wildlife Trust; both gents are slightly more than somewhat over 80.

l On another old friend and award front, Dr. John Dugan, Sr., of Red Deer, 61 years in practice, has been named 2014 Veterinarian of the Year by the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. John treated all five of our Brittanys, starting with his favorite, Quince, in 1970. Quince became a challenge for us all after he contracted coccidiosis, a fundamentally incurable poultry disease. Dugan would often shake his head and wonder what a prodigy the dog would have been if only he had his health. Even so, Quince was surpassed only by Red.

l Colleague Neil Waugh of the Edmonton Sun is comparatively youngish, and for instant cabin fever relief, check out the following link from the Telus Storyhive site for a video called Castles in the Air produced by Neil and son Dr. Colin Waugh, which features fly-fishing on the South Ram River, near Nordegg,: http://yycyeg.storyhive.com/showcase.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.