Lots of bad news for outdoors people

It doesn’t matter that, in the midst of a soft winter, with sunlight and its warmth increasing, this always seems to be cabin-fever, shack-nasty season for Alberta outdoors people where the bad news just keeps piling on.

It doesn’t matter that, in the midst of a soft winter, with sunlight and its warmth increasing, this always seems to be cabin-fever, shack-nasty season for Alberta outdoors people where the bad news just keeps piling on.

Within a week we’ve got the first mad cow disease-infected bovine and the first chronic wasting diseased ranched elk in Alberta in many years. Informed critics are concerned that there seems to be a provincial agenda to keep the elk case secret. That possibility, plus the fact that the bovine mad cow is being blamed on infected feed worries me because, in a long interview recently, Darrel Rowledge of Calgary, an exhaustively informed activist against game ranching, told me that scientists have now found the prions that cause CWD in wild, live browse.

At the annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association which starts today in Lethbridge, delegates will learn that CWD continues its inevitable death march eastward from the Saskatchewan game farms where it originated, infecting our deer in the southeast corner of the province. Conference delegates also will be buzzing over the stupidly mismanaged elk cull that is continuing in that area on Canadian Forces Base Suffield, particularly about First Nation hunters being the only ones permitted to kill the magnificent trophy bulls on the base.

Steve MacKenzie, a reader from Lacombe, emails: “Putting First Nation groups from Alberta and Saskatchewan ahead of licence-buying Alberta hunters in this way was a poorly thought-out move by the military.”

Rod Dyck of Drumheller, a life member and a past president of the AFGA, says: “I can’t think of any event in the past 10 years that has created such animosity between whites and natives as this one. All thanks to the government and military.”

Dyck asks some good questions: “If the natives were invited there to kill elk and are exercising their treaty rights, were they told they could shoot bulls or are they just doing it? I have talked with others that hunted there in January and they spoke with the natives; one comment one made was ‘we are seeing a lot of big antelope here, too bad we can’t shoot them.’

“Why can’t they shoot antelope there? If it is because there is no season on for residents, well, there is no season on for residents to shoot bull elk either. It would be nice if someone in the provincial or federal government or the military would come clean on the whole issue.”

It would also be nice if someone in Alberta Environment-Sustainable Resource Development would come clean on the cougar questions of mismanagement and a tragedy coming somewhere to happen. On Jan. 30, a pipeline worker south of Grand Prairie suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries when he and two fellow workers were attacked by a cougar. If the victim had been alone, he’d be cat scat by now, but he and his buddies managed to beat off the repeated attacks. There is great concern here because it is unusual for the big cats to attack groups of adult humans.

Less than two weeks later, Sundre fish and wildlife officer Adam Mirus was quoted as saying that over the past six months, three to five cougar sighting calls per week are coming in to his office, a 70 per cent increase from the norm. As usual, the high cougar population is attributed to high deer numbers.

But deer numbers are seriously down in Alberta’s best cougar country, from Rocky Mountain House to Sundre and west, as result of a horrendously hard 2013-2014 winter. My calls and emails are thus up by 80 per cent in the past year from landowners who are killing cougars on sight to protect their kids, family pets and livestock.

Nobody will acknowledge that we have far too many cougars solely because of the egregious management error in 1971: without having any idea how many cougars we already had, we upgraded a “fur-bearing predator” (varmint) to “big game animal” status and then imposed ridiculously low quotas for the winter hound-hunting season. The last time I checked 10 days ago, the cougar quotas for this year were nearly filled.

Dark verdicts are just in on two major Alberta issues. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP has concluded that the police acted unlawfully during the June 2013 floods in High River when they entered evacuated homes and seized hundreds of firearms.

In the sordid matter of the helicopter strafing and strychnine poisoning of more than 1,000 wolves in the Little Smoky River area, a group of professors from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan call it “inhumane.” They might also have mentioned that it is also an Alberta government charade: appearing to do something for endangered caribou while doing nothing about the government-sponsored habitat destruction that is the root cause of the problem.

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