Hunting farms urged for Alberta: Critics call them 'pet shoots'

February 11, 2002 The Ottawa Citizen by John Cotter
Rural Alberta stands to lose thousands of potential jobs if the government doesn't approve a proposal to allow hunting farms where tourists can pay to shoot elk and deer, proponents say.

Today, two groups, the Alberta Elk Association and the Alberta Whitetail and Mule Deer Association, will pitch their idea to a special all-Tory committee behind closed doors at the legislature.

"We see an opportunity to market our animals, to have them harvested as trophies," said Norm Moore, an elk farmer and spokesman for the two associations. "We will lay out our proposal and let the people there decide whether it is a worthwhile thing or not."

Animals to stock the fenced hunting farms would come from the more than 600 game ranches in the province.

Such an arrangement would help an industry suffering from low prices caused by disease and lack of demand. It would also attract more tourists to rural areas and compete with existing hunting farms in Saskatchewan, Quebec and some U.S. states.

"It goes with the agri-tourism that we're trying to develop in rural communities," said Mr. Moore, whose brother Marv Moore managed Premier Ralph Klein's election campaign last year.

"It could give 300 people a $20,000 per year income. That could grow to 10 times that."

The associations refer to the proposed farms as "cervid harvesting preserves" and prefer to use the term "recreational experience" rather than hunting.

"Imagine the semantic bafflegab that went into figuring that out," said Daryl Rowledge, a wildlife expert from Calgary who virulently opposes hunting farms. He calls them "pet shoots."

"Real hunters don't shoot pets. These animals have no fear of people. They are fed out of a bucket," he said.

Mr. Rowledge contends that hunting farms are an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Domesticated elk and deer could spread infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease to wildlife, livestock or even people, he said.

Last year more than 7,800 elk were slaughtered on Saskatchewan game farms because of disease at a cost of $65 million to taxpayers. Tuberculosis swept through some Alberta elk farms in the early 1990s.

The Alberta Fish and Game Association opposes game-farm hunting for other reasons. "It offends my sensibilities," said association president Ron Dyck. "The whole idea of raising an animal in an enclosed area where it is protected and taking it to another enclosed area where it can't escape -- it is like shooting fish in a barrel."

At some hunting farms in Quebec and Saskatchewan, tourists are allowed to pick from a corral the animal they want to shoot before it is set loose for the hunt.

Game ranchers in Manitoba have been given two years to shut down their hunt operations under a new law banning penned hunting. But next door in Saskatchewan, the practice on some 35 farms is pumping about $6 million a year into rural communities reeling under the impact of low agriculture prices.

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