Go shoot a steer instead

If you’re a hunter, how much would you pay a farmer to track down and shoot a cow?

If you’re a hunter, how much would you pay a farmer to track down and shoot a cow?

Imagine this scenario: You scan the field with binoculars and spot a herd of cattle grazing, oblivious to your presence. You drop to your hands and knees and begin the stalk.

You occasionally halt your advance to throw tufts of dried grass into the air to test the wind direction, to make certain your scent is not picked up by the canny herd.

The rifle scope is then trained on a prime steer and a shot rings out, killing the trophy instantly.

Quite the challenge.

Such hunts could become a reality on Alberta game ranches if the provincial government passes its proposed Livestock Diversity Amendment Act 2011.

Penned deer and elk, just as tame as cows, could be targeted. The legislation will remove them from protection under the Wildlife Act, which prohibits paid hunting, and give them the same status as cattle. They will be reclassified as “diversified livestock.” (It’s legal to shoot and field dress a steer if you first pay the farmer for the beef.)

The amendment threatens to open fences to paid hunting.

It’s a lucrative business. In Texas, so-called hunters are paying as much as US$5,000 to game ranchers to bag a trophy deer.

Is the intent of this legislation to resurrect Alberta’s faltering game ranching industry? Who asked for these amendments? Why is this surprise legislation being fast-tracked?

The Alberta Fish and Game Association is incensed, saying the public should have first been consulted.

The association says game farms have been linked to the introduction of chronic wasting disease, the ungulate equivalent of mad cow disease. It’s spreading rapidly among wild herds of elk and deer in North America — including Alberta.

The threat here triggered a controversial mass cull of thousands of deer in eastern Alberta. The animals were shot from the air by snipers in helicopters. Mass graves were bulldozed to bury the animals.

Yet chronic wasting disease continues its relentless, deadly march westward, Margo Pybus, provincial wildlife disease specialist, told the recent fish and game association annual convention. The spread, said Pybus, is predominant along water courses, in particular the South Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers.

She also noted that the source of chronic wasting disease in Alberta irrefutably points to Saskatchewan game ranchers. The Saskatchewan government has slaughtered several thousand deer since 2001 in a fruitless battle against the disease.

When game ranching was first proposed in Alberta, scientists and conservation groups raised a red flag over the worst case scenario — chronic wasting disease. But the government brushed aside the concerns. We are now paying for the consequences.

Among those voices was zoologist Valerius Geist, formerly of the University of Calgary and one the most respected experts in the world on the perils of game ranching.

In 2008, Geist, commenting on Alberta’s massive deer cull, said: “My heart weeps, but this is now the only way to stop (chronic wasting disease). This is what you get when you follow stupid ideas that were discredited before they’re even born.”

If penned hunting is allowed here, there’s a threat that the industry will attract more investors and more game farms to spread the wealth and spread the threat of chronic wasting disease.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.