If you plan on visiting one of Ontario's provincial parks or conservation reserves to enjoy the fall colours, be sure to bring a bright orange safety vest.
Unfortunately, the first clue many nature enthusiasts have that shooting is allowed in 316 Ontario parks and 249 conservation reserves - representing 75 per cent of protected areas - is the sound of actual shots. At Presqu'ile Provincial Park near Trenton, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) permits hunters to shoot ducks, geese and migratory birds in the same areas where birders flock to witness the mysteries of the fall migration.
It's bizarre that laying waste to animals is still allowed in these places, especially given the fact that the MNR has just released a discussion paper outlining proposals to strengthen the Parks Act. The document proposes a ban on major industrial activities such as mining, aggregate and peat extraction and hydroelectric development in all provincial parks and reserves. But, alas, there's no mention of ending hunting.
The Harris Tories may be gone, but the MNR, it seems, continues its cozy relationship with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Under the provincial Environmental Bill Of Rights, passed in the 90s, citizens groups are allowed to trigger a review of legislation. But oddly, the Fish And Wildlife Conservation Act remains the only eco-significant law not included in the Environmental Bill Of Rights and is therefore not subject to public review. (The environment ministry recently agreed to consider a review after an application by Earthroots.)
More recently, a commission advising the minister on how to spend money from the ministry's special-purpose account was stocked with anglers and hunters more likely to funnel money away from general wildlife preservation programs to those that promote hunting - this even though the number of species threatened with extinction in Ontario increases each year as a result of habitat destruction and hunting pressures.
For example, the eastern wolf was identified by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as a species of "special concern" in 2001 but was only added to the provincial Species at Risk list last spring. These wolves can still be hunted and trapped across most of their range, except in the Algonquin Park region, year round without any limits. The wolverine is another species at risk that can still be trapped.
Hikers, canoeists and campers can protect themselves with screaming orange, but not the wildlife dodging bullets in our parks.