By Michael Wright
Anti-poaching measures, such as an anonymous hotline to inform on offenders, appear to be curtailing Alberta’s outlaw hunters.
But a conservation group is warning no significant inroads will be made unless more money is devoted to stamping out poaching.
Provincial data shows the number of poaching cases has been falling annually since 2010. Just over 1,700 enforcement actions were recorded in 2012, well down on the 1,854 in 2010. The 2013 numbers are yet to be finalized, but the provincial Justice and the Solicitor General department, which oversees poaching prosecutions, expects the last year’s figures to be close to the previous year’s level.
“(It’s) a good indicator that perhaps our efforts like the report-a-poacher program are working,” department spokesman Brendan Cox said.
“Information from the public really goes a long way to helping to curb poaching.”
Within the data, though, are some worrying trends. Seven bald eagles were killed by poachers in Alberta last year. Grizzly bears still featured prominently on the list of animals affected. Both are threatened species.
“You’re not allowed them (grizzlies) ... but there’s still that trophy element,” said Sean Nichols, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“In terms of how many deaths for the species were recorded it’s a noticeable percentage.”
Alberta Fish and Game Association past president Conrad Fennema said more enforcement officers were needed to seriously curb poaching in the province.
“By the time somebody sees something, with the lack of officers that we have, the response time to get out there and actually address the issue sometimes ... is long. They can look at it but they never catch up to the guys because it’s maybe a day or two days later.”
He estimated less than half the poachers in Alberta were caught.
“A lot of people (are) getting away with it. We’ve got a big province and it doesn’t take much to drive down a country road and see a whitetail (deer) ....”
Deer were a popular target for poachers, Fennema said, as one person could carry a carcass.
The province’s budget for Fish and Wildlife enforcement has been steady at about $21 million since it came under the control of Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General two years ago.
There were 143 officers in the branch. Staffing had also been steady since the department took over. Twelve new officers were recently deployed, but filled existing vacancies.
Some serious poaching cases from 2013 remain open.
Authorities were still searching for the offenders who shot dead six moose, 15 deer, four elk and one black bear near Edson in October and November.
“It’s concerning due to the number of animals involved,” Cox said.
“There’s a disrespect shown for the wildlife. For the most part the carcasses were wasted or abandoned. An ethical hunter wouldn’t abandon carcasses like that.”
Anyone concerned about possible poaching activity can call the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800. firstname.lastname@example.org
Total wildlife enforcement actions:
*Not all 2013 files have been processed yet. The province estimates the final figure will be within 100 of the 2012 total.
Poaching by species, 2009-13:
WHITE-TAILED DEER 424
MULE DEER 326
BIGHORN SHEEP 52
GRIZZLY BEAR 43