Conserving and keeping wildlife and people safe

As with many things in life, there are often two sides to every story.

When it comes to wildlife, specifically hunting, trapping and fishing, this is no exception. Conservation officers (CO) are often on both sides of that fence in that they appreciate the many forms of harvesting animals for human use and yet work to keep this a sustainable, safe practice for years to come.

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An enlightening interview with CO Lindsey Leko from Weyburn revealed this year’s hunting and fishing issues as well as details about the job itself. Being employed in this position since 1997, Leko has seen trends over the years and has a good handle on what is going on in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. As conservation officers are deemed essential service workers, COVID has not changed or limited their roles much. They are still expected to be out in the field and respond to tips using all distancing and other COVID regulations.

“What has affected hunting drastically is the border closures,” Leko explained. “Usually we see a huge influx of non-resident hunters coming to hunt our upland birds and waterfowl. Without those numbers this year, we were not as busy.”

Although there has not been an official wildlife count for big game by the wildlife branch of Sask. Environment since 2017, there are whitetail counts and spotlight counts regularly. Ongoing conversations with various wildlife groups keep the province informed and there is an app people can use to plot locations of wildlife they see.

“A new thing this year is going to be a mandatory hunter harvest which will allow wildlife managers to accurately know what was taken this year and to predict or forecast what we will do in the future,” Lindsey said. “All hunters will be reminded through their PAL account and hopefully all will participate so we know whether or not they just hung their tags on the Christmas tree this year. Without this type of help, there is no way to even estimate populations.”

“The number of people applying for the big game draw are increasing every year, so I would think that would indicate we have new hunters each year which is great, but I have seen a dramatic change over the years.”

Officer Leko described the open day of whitetail season,

“It would be common to see a whole family out together on a Tuesday, hunting deer that first day. That was a pastime that was done as a family and it was carried down generation to generation. I think a lot of people relied on the meat, but I don’t see that as much anymore.” 

He wondered out loud about the mindset of this generation being very different towards hunting and animals, and said he has observed personally the younger hunters are more rural based rather than from the cities.

“There are still lots of kids taking the Hunter’s Safety course. Now that it is available online, more have access to it, although I still believe there is nothing like learning in a small group, classroom setting where they experience more hands on.” These numbers increase every year as well.

When asked the top violations or issues they deal with most during hunting season, it was disheartening to hear that conservation officers still get numerous calls about conflict between landowner and hunter.

“In many of the zones, like around Weyburn, you cannot drive onto a farmer’s land without written permission whether it is posted or not,” officer Leko explained. “In other areas, if the land is not adequately posted or not posted properly, hunters have implied right of access. This means the hunter has access until the landowner tells them to leave. But if the land is posted properly, hunters are not allowed on it.”

The officers in this area also find that some hunters are still driving with a loaded firearm in their vehicles despite the laws and terrible risks involved. Often, they have had hunters get into a bluff and not realize there is a residence within 60-70 metres of their position, which is not following regulation. This is also a serious violation for obvious reasons.

Finally, Leko described a practice that has been driving a wedge between landowners and hunters that they are seeing more and more of, which is hunters dumping the parts of their kill they do not want on land that does not belong to them.

“People don’t seem to realize that is littering. Under the Environmental Management Protection Act, the disposing of waste on someone else’s or on crown land carries a penalty of $580,” Leko explained.

The argument is that coyotes and other scavengers will clean it up, but as Leko said, “people have to stop and think about the farmers and what they want. None of them want the scavengers in or near their yard, their livestock, their pets or family. The proper way to dispose of it is to double/triple bag it and take it home to put in your regular household garbage.”

If you have permission from the landowner to leave it far out in the bush or in what they call a ‘bone yard’ that is great, but it gets back to respect of and communication with the landowners.

If you have any questions with regard to hunting rules you can Google many questions and it will take you to Saskatchewan’s government website. They have a hunting and fishing page where you can download your own copy of the hunting guide, get information on chronic wasting disease, First Nation Hunting rights information and so much more. There is also an inquiry line you can call: 1-800-567-4224

Leko left with one request to share with readers. “We really need the public’s help in reporting these violations. Often times I will go check on anglers at the fishing shack in July and have someone say ‘where were you yesterday? There was a guy here with 15 walleye’ and my question is always, ‘why didn’t you call?” He admitted they have many officers but there is a very large area that they cover and their mandate as conservation officers is very diverse.

“They will get my butt out of bed at 1 a.m. on a TIPP call and I will deal with it,” CO Leko promised. “An officer not calling back should never happen and I am not aware of it ever happening with the officers we have here in the southeast. We get out there and investigate it as soon as possible but we need as much information as they can possibly gather. A license plate number is the best information, and I can take it from there. I don’t need their involvement or to have them come to court most of the time.”

He ended the interview with the importance of the public knowing that the conservation officers cannot take care of abuses if they do not know they are happening, so he greatly appreciates those who report infractions when they see them.

You can Turn In Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you notice any fishing, wildlife or environmental resource violations by calling toll free: 1-800-667-7561, text #5555 or complete and submit a form online.

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