During a season of rampant illegal hunting in southwestern Manitoba, the province announced the arrests of seven people yesterday.
Mass patrol efforts, involving conservation officers from numerous detachments, were deployed after the remains of two illegally killed elk were discovered south of Shilo on Friday. Conservation officers arrested three men that evening and four more suspects on Monday morning.
The public bulletin comes as concerns over illegal hunting reached a fever pitch, even while the province laid nearly quadruple (50 and counting) the average number of illegal hunting charges (14) in a year.
"It’s not attributed to the fact that we’re out there more. We always get out there in the fall as much as we can," said Jack Harrigan, chief conservation officer with Manitoba Sustainable Development. "We’re not sure why we’re running into it more."
At approximately 11:15 p.m. on Friday, ground patrol observed a spotlight shining from a vehicle in a manner consistent with night hunting.
Three men were apprehended without incident. A 2002 Ford F-150, three rifles, a spotlight and other hunting gear in their possession were seized.
On Sunday, conservation officers organized a night patrol, with the collaboration of spotters in an aircraft, a municipal police officer and the conservation department’s K-9 unit.
In the early morning hours the next day, officers in the aircraft spotted a vehicle northwest of Glenboro using a spotlight.
The suspect vehicle fled when they were spotted. While attempting to elude the aircraft and seven ground units, the suspect vehicle lost control and slammed into a snow-packed ditch.
Four men were arrested. A 1995 GMC truck, two rifles, a spotlight, the carcass of a freshly killed deer, hunting gear and a set of illegal brass knuckles were seized.
In both cases, charges will likely be laid at a later date.
Simply based on the number of charges laid this year — "well over 50," according to the province’s head of conservation enforcement — Harrigan believes there is an increase in illegal hunting.
It would align with anecdotal reports from landowners, who have relayed accounts of nighttime gunfire, widespread trespassing and declining wildlife populations, particularly moose, this year.
Some of the hunters, likely spooked of getting caught, are leaving the carcasses to rot after removing the desirable meat.
Harrigan explained that conservation officers have always been alert, but a more determined "organizational effort" has been employed in the region.
They are using aircraft surveillance more often, but Harrigan wouldn’t say how often the tool is used. "At a certain point, I don’t want to tip our hand."
Ten or 11 conservation members are employed in southwestern Manitoba, he said, based in offices in Brandon, Virden, Boissevain, Shoal Lake and Neepawa. There is one vacancy.
Collaborative efforts involving the region’s conservation officers, and occasionally a dog, aircraft and local police, are common, Harrigan said.
"We’ll focus on one area in the region and bring everybody in to assist. It’s really the only way it can be done."
He believes hiring more employees, though it would help, won’t solve everything.
"Even adding more officers would not necessarily be the answer because we can never be a full-time security service across southern Manitoba," he said, explaining they must work smarter and more efficiently. He adds a lack of qualified applicants complicates matters.
Hiring more conservation officers was one of the demands presented by municipal officials from southwestern Manitoba during a meeting last month with Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox.
They also want an end to night hunting, the implementation of a five-year moratorium on moose harvesting in the region and increased education.
Eliminating night hunting, which uses powerful artificial light to stop wildlife in their tracks, is at odds with some First Nations leadership, since the practice is legal for indigenous hunters on Crown lands or private lands where permission is received.
Municipality of Pipestone Reeve Archie McPherson was pleased to hear of recent arrests, but believes more enforcement is needed.
"In the suburbs around the city, if this type of night hunting was going on, you could only imagine the outcry."
Unease has reached such a point where legal hunters who received permission for decades to hunt on private property are facing resistance, said McPherson, a hunter himself.
"People are getting so fed up they’re not going to let anybody hunt. It’s unfortunate that a few bad apples have to spoil it for everybody."
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