Island farmers feed half of local deer herd, want preference in hunting tags

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SPRING BAY—For the second year in a row, the fact that Manitoulin farmers are being shut out of the deer hunt for anterless deer tags for the annual gun hunt on Manitoulin was the hot button topic of the annual general joint meeting at the Manitoulin Cattlemen’s/Soil and Crop Associations.

For the first time since his election, the two associations invited Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha to attend and address the issue that has been plaguing Island farmers for many years.

Mr. Mantha said he was pleased to be invited, as he often participates in the Algoma Cattlemen’s Association AGM. “I’m not going to pretend to know everything about the cattle industry, but I rely heavily on my colleague MPP John Vanthof, who many of you probably know (Mr. Vanthof is an Earlton area dairy farmer),” the MPP said.

Mr. Mantha said his research has shown that there is “essentially no compensation” from the MNR for damages deer do to farmer’s crops. “We’re facing the same problem on the North Shore with elk,” he added.

Mr. Mantha said it was crucial to bring First Nations into the conversation, as there are certain areas of the North Shore that are currently looking into having a selective cull by First Nations individuals.

The MPP explained the process of inviting an MNR technician to your property to assess crop damages. The technician will then create a report, which the farmer can later use to seek compensation for damages.

“Are you referring to Agricultural Deer Removal Authorization?” Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) agriculture representative Brian Bell asked Mr. Mantha.

“Yes, that’s the one,” Mr. Mantha responded.

Mr. Bell replied that the problem with deer removal authorization is that it is not responsive enough, nor does it give the farmer enough time. “By the time a farmer gets approval for one or two deer, it’s too close to the hunting season. By the time it’s approved, the damage is already done,” Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Bell also explained that the MNR puts more influence in certain kinds of crops and that hay, while crucial for most Island farmers, isn’t considered a ‘high value crop.’

“I don’t know why they can’t let farmers issue tags—they should be able to control the tags on their farm, like moose tags are controlled for Northern outfitters who have the tags to disperse to their customers,” farmer Rick Campbell said.

“And we’re the ones feeding them,” Evansville farmer Dean Millsap added.

“It’s really frustrating to see what’s happening with the MNR,’” Mr. Mantha said. “The MNR has not seen an increase in funding in over 10 years and what’s going to happen to Manitoulin now that the (Espanola office) jobs are being moved to Sudbury?

Mr. Mantha also noted the Service Ontario cuts, especially as they pertain to the Gore Bay office and the detrimental impact the reduced hours have had on Manitoulin Transport, and automobile dealers McQuarrie Motors and Dad’s Sales and Service.

“From what I’ve seen, a lot of the cuts are having a direct effect on Northern Ontario—there’s no reason why we should be second class citizens within our own province,” he added.

Mr. Bell noted that for the past 10 years, he has kept a running tally of the cluster areas of where deer congregate, the crop damages they incur, as well as the monetary damages farmers have borne as a result. These figures also show that 50 percent of the Manitoulin deer herd is sustained by Island agriculture.

“I have provided that information to the MNR,” Mr. Bell informed Mr. Mantha.

“And?” Mr. Mantha asked.

Mr. Bell shrugged in response.

Mr. Mantha told Mr. Bell he would like a sit down meeting with himself and Wayne Sellinger of the MNR.

Jim Martin suggested that farmers show up en masse to the next deer management committee meeting. Cattlemen’s secretary Marca Williamson suggested the association put an ad in the paper once the deer management committee annual general meeting is announced, urging farmers to attend.

Mr. Mantha also suggested that the Cattlemen’s/Soil and Crop Association create a petition that could be introduce to the legislature. “The government is obligated to respond that way,” he said. “It may receive a negative response, but it will make it to the ministry level. When you start speaking as a group, the government will listen.”

“The nice thing about the agriculture sector is that the premier is the minister,” Mr. Mantha continued, “and I understand she’s been very active on this file.”

“I have a great relationship with the premier,” the MPP added. “This is one of the first things I bring up, along with road conditions, you just need to ‘tool me up’.”

He noted the current government being in a minority setting is a good time to bring about change, as the government must work with the other parties to see things done, “especially with the premier as the agriculture minister.”

“Other than petition, is there anything else we can do?” Mr. Campbell asked Mr. Mantha.

“Lobby the hell out of your MPP—kick him in the ass every once in awhile,” Mr. Mantha joked, noting that he had no problem working across party lines to get a job done. “I’ve built my bridges.”

Alicia McCutcheon