By MPP Toby Barrett
Mention wildlife conservation and it means many different things to various people. To me, it is the guidance that has allowed wildlife populations in Canada and the United States to recover from lows at the end of the 19th century and recover to sustainable levels.
Stepping back in time to the 1800s, fish and wildlife harvest was mostly unregulated in Ontario. Market hunting, a practice where waterfowl and other game was harvested to sell to restaurants and retailers, was taking a toll on duck and goose numbers. In the west, bison numbers were plummeting in both Canada and the U.S. Hunters and anglers began calling for conservation measures.
What evolved became known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and its seven principles, but the underlying premises are wildlife are for the non-commercial use of citizens and species should be managed to ensure their populations remain at sustainable levels. This differed from many European countries, where the property owner owned the wildlife.
Going from a North American scale, to a local scale, the same issues were occurring in Ontario, and in Haldimand-Norfolk. With Long Point as one of the most important migratory bird staging areas in eastern North America, poaching was rampant. Seeing this, several prominent sportsmen of the day purchased Long Point and formed the Long Point Company in the 1860s. They brought an end to poaching and established what could have been the first migratory bird hunting regulations in the country.
Intertwined in the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the value of non-government conservation organizations. These organizations stepped up and provided dollars for wildlife conservation.
Ducks Unlimited is the best known example. Initially using American-raised dollars, DU helped to revive the wetlands of the Prairies during the drought of the 1930s. The Canadian model for fundraising banquets started locally in Turkey Point. Members of the Turkey Point Company hunt club are both Canadian and American. After several Canadians attended a dinner in Buffalo, NY, they started the first-ever Canadian conservation fund-raising dinner in Tillsonburg in 1973. After moving to Port Rowan, the chapter still has #1 attached to it.
DU has had a presence in Haldimand-Norfolk on the habitat side as well, with work at James N. Allen Provincial Park near Dunnville being a recent example. Delta Waterfowl also has a big presence in the area.
The reintroduction of the wild turkey is another wildlife success story. Again, hunter-led organizations – the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the National Wild Turkey Federation – were behind this effort. One of the first releases in the reintroduction was in Norfolk County.
Today, North American conservation organizations face a new threat – COVID-19. Measures to contain the virus have resulted in no fund-raising banquets in over a year. On a local scale, I attended a meeting of the Long Point Area Fish and Game Club. This was only the group’s first meeting in over a year.
This made me realize all conservation organizations, from local clubs like the ones in Long Point and Dunnville to national organizations, are in similar straits. Those who care about conservation need to step up and financially support these organizations to get them through these tough times.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk