Strange birds these folks at the Ministry of Natural Resources. At the same time that they closed the highly regarded Leslie M. Frost Natural Resource Centre this summer, claiming enviro ed wasn't their mandate, they paved the way for student participation in after-school turkey shoots.
The Wild Turkey Working Group, composed of hunting interests and MNR staff, has been recommending that spring turkey hunting hours - currently limited to mornings only - be extended. Making it an all-day affair, up until half an hour after dusk, the group says, would allow "increased opportunities for youth hunters who are otherwise unable to participate except on weekends due to conflicts with school.'
Natural Resources Minister David Ramsey agrees. Says John Boos, acting senior avian biologist with the ministry, "Youth are involved in all different types of hunting. Having an all-day season would allow some groups who are not restricted to hunt. Some thought that more than a half-day hunt would disrupt the breeding season. Wild turkeys were pushed to the brink of extirpation throughout most of North America, (but) there is no sustainability issue."
Do the Liberals really want more teens with guns?
It's about time the province supported, rather than resisted, the popular trend toward shooting wildlife through the lens of a camera instead of the barrel of a gun. Such activities teach youth (and eco-tourists) about the sanctity of life and how to treat the planet in a caring and respectful way.
Why is the MNR not pushing hiking, canoeing and birdwatching? The thrill of being the first to spot a particular species in a given season or locale is a much more elegant competitive sport than the bagging of a defenceless winged creature.
Take birdwatcher Don Roebuck and his partner. This spring they were the first to spot a common moorhen in MacGregor Point Provincial Park, south of Port Elgin. Roebuck tells us that "instead of impressing people with the birds you shoot or the size of the fish you catch, you can impress with what you see and photograph."
The MNR appears to have adopted as a central goal the expansion of sport hunting and angling, including getting people hooked when they're young.
This retrograde goal is a product of the Heritage Hunting And Fishing Act introduced by the previous Tory government in 2002. The act calls for the creation of a Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission with a mandate to advise the Minister of Natural Resources on ways to promote "new opportunities for, and public participation in hunting, fishing, fish and wildlife viewing and appreciation," mainly through tourism and youth participation.
Perhaps some good intentions are at work here, but each and every one of the 11 members appointed to the new commission this June is either a hunter or an angler. The Liberals should have broadened representation on the commission to include eco-tourist operators and youth environmentalists.
After promising to amend the outdated Ontario Parks Act, the McGuinty government has a chance this year to restrict allowable activities in parks.
Until September 8, you can comment on the Ministry of Natural Resources' proposal to expand sport hunting opportunities for youth and tourists, posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry at www.ene.gov. on.ca.