Written by: Heather Clemenceau
The final Ministry of Labour costs for the six-day 2014 deer hunt by members of the Haudenosaunee Aboriginal Community is $61,959. Of the Ministry costs, $19,286 was for salaries, $32,750 for accommodation and meals and $9,923 in miscellaneous costs. Not included are the wages for Ontario Provincial Police or Niagara Regional Police, who were present at the hunt every day with a headcount of 6-12 officers at any given time. When their salaries and overtime are factored in, the cost for the hunt could easily approach $200,000. This still does not include the costs downloaded to the Privacy Commissioner’s Office, which in 2013 sorted through “approximately 2,300 pages of records, including briefing notes, house notes, correspondence, e-mails, plans, handwritten notes and agreements” in order to respond to a Freedom of Information request by the Welland Tribune alone.
John Salo from the Ministry of Natural Resources reported that a total of 67 ministry staff were involved throughout the hunt, with about 45 staff on site daily in November and December. Salo claimed additional ministry staff were required “to ensure public and harvester safety at Short Hills Provincial Park due to an increased number of protesters.” This last statement is a blatant attempt to blame the cost on conscientious objectors to the hunt, however it was the police and not the MNR who primarily interacted with protesters (unless you count the lurid sexist gestures made by some MNR staff to the female protesters). The open records request did not reveal a single communication that expressed concern over the number of protesters (and therefore a need to increase staff). It’s bogus because the number of protesters had no bearing on the MNR staff who were responsible for marking trees with hunt and buffer zones, patrolling the park to keep public out and keep the hunters in after they left the hunt boundary and had to be corralled back (5), or the “valet services” provided to hunters when dead deer were shuttled in the park via ATV. Despite having all these people in the park, the Ministry still could not control the number of hunters in Short Hills (although clearly they had no intention of doing so), nor could they help locate a wounded deer which survived a night with an arrow in its stomach.
All these MNR staff members would have been present at the park even if there were no protesters at all. In any case, it is the protesters who need protection against the MNR, if the incident involving MNR Superintendent Richard Post is any indication.
After an unfathomably long investigation of more than two months by the OPP, Post, who pushed a demonstrator with an MNR vehicle out into the road after a protest in December 2014, has been exonerated. This, despite the fact that the Criminal Code of Canada makes it an offence to drive or operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public.
The arms-up, stick-swinging superintendent has a history of causing dissension during the course of his employment In 2011, he came under scrutiny when a video of him flinging driftwood logs from a teepee-style structure while surrounded by bewildered beach-goers appeared online. Tensions came to a head in April 2012 when Post was charged with one count of assault after a confrontation with a 73 year old cottager at Rondeau Provincial Park. Those charges were also dismissed in October 2013. Even though more than 320 cottagers petitioned the Ministry of Natural Resources to transfer him, the MNR and Ontario Parks somehow continued to support his methods whilst simultaneously having issues with the stakeholder complaint process.
There was certainly no love lost between Post and the Rondeau Cottagers Association, who wrote in their newsletter after his transfer to Pinery Park that:
“Post’s time here will be remembered by the public for being charged by the OPP with assaulting Garnet Smith two years ago this week, and for demolishing the Big Dock. Those of us on the RCA Executive view his legacy as the complete loss of a formerly-respectful stakeholder relationship, a shameful breakdown in communication resulting in deepening entrenchment, and ultimately an abject four-year failure of leadership & park management. When U.S. President Ronald Reagan ran for re-election in 1980, he asked voters if they were better-off now than they were four years ago. To paraphrase the late President: “Is Rondeau better-off now than it was four years ago?” I vote no.”
How Was Short Hills Park chosen for a hunt when other locations appeared to be more suitable? Open records requests by the Short Hills Alliance did not provide an answer to this question. In fact, in all the FOIA information presented to the Alliance, Short Hills was not short-listed or even mentioned once as a possibility. In reviewing the other available options presented to the Haudenosaunee, it becomes apparent that Short Hills was not any more suitable or desirable than practically any other proffered site. FOIA requests did reveal that the Haudenosaunee requested additional outsourced deer since the number of available deer on the reservation had diminished, leaving them 10-12 deer short each year for Long House Ceremonial functions. Reading between the lines, the implication here is perhaps that the traditional grounds may have been over hunted.
The native hunters requested isolated hunting lands that were not currently open to regular hunters, and they were willing to travel anywhere in the watershed. Clearly there would have been several more suitable options for hunting if areas that were already used for this activity would have been acceptable. The natives were working on 27 land claims, and said that pre-existing treaties allowed them to hunt in all of South Western Ontario.
Other areas discussed for hunting included: Wainfleet Bog, Navy Island, Dundas Valley, Willoughby Marsh, Humberstone Marsh, South Cayuga/Townsend, (2) Balls Falls, Binbrook, Canborough, Chippawa Creek, E.C. Brown, Hedley Forest, Jordan Harbour, Long Beach, Mud Lake (4) and Port Davidson, Ruigrok Tract, St. Johns, Stevensville, Virgil Dams and Reservoirs, and Wainfleet Wetlands (6)
These sites may have been ruled out for the following reasons (itemized on spreadsheets by MNR staff and obtained by FOIA requests):
Wainfleet Bog – Public hunting was already in the park, there was public opposition for closing area for exclusive hunt, difficulty walking through would make for a difficult hunt, site is home of Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake and other species at risk, Six Nations had already had discussions but did not pursue, there was difficulty in distinguishing between Crown owned and NPCA owned lands, the area was surrounded by private land, and there was difficulty in ensuring safety due to large area
Navy Island – A Niagara Parks Agreement would have been required, problem with firearms on Parkway, hunting was deemed too difficult, normally a public outcry when hunt takes place, access by boat, tourist area – highly visible
Dundas Valley – No real increased hunting opportunity as Six Nations is already hunting there, public not happy with hunting in the area, highly populated
Willoughby Marsh – Public hunting already allowed, small recreational area, public opposition to closing area for exclusive hunt, difficult to hunt and low deer concentrations
Humberstone Marsh – Public hunting already allowed, proximity to city of Port Colborne, low deer concentrations
South Cayuga/Townsend – Land is leased so landowner permission required
Balls Falls – No hunting season
Binbrook – Hunting from designated blinds only, hunting blind fee applies, already being used by other hunters
Canborough – No hunting season
Chippewa Creek – Hunting restrictions in some blocks
E.C. Brown – No hunting season
Hedley Forest – Conservation Area boundaries
Humberstone Marsh – Conservation Area boundaries
Jordan Harbour – No hunting season
Long Beach – Some area restrictions
Mud Lake – Hunting from designated blinds only
Port Davidson – No hunting season
Ruigrok Tract – Conservation area boundaries
St. Johns – No hunting season
Stevensville – No hunting season
Virgil Dams and Reservoirs – No hunting season
Wainfleet Bog – Designated areas only
Wainfleet Wetlands – Boundary restrictions, no ATVs allowed in conservation areas
Notice the number of sites that currently allow hunting but have low populations of deer. This suggests that the areas are being hunted to excess. Notice also that the Short Hills Alliance is not the only group in opposition to deer hunting in their backyards.
The Short Hills deer hunt demonstrates the importance of open records for government transparency. The park was selected despite the fact that it also featured expanses of private land around the perimeter, there were objections to hunting, it was of small size, and there continue to be low hunting success rates (as evidenced by up to 70 hunters coming into the park per day, but killing only 21 deer during the entire hunt), and unclear hunting boundaries. With the available other options, the MNR and Ontario Parks would have to be wooden-headed in enforcing subsequent hunts in an area where there is such intense opposition from both the public and the Regional Council members.
According to the law of diminishing returns, we can reasonably presume that if hunting by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy on the reserve continued at a steady state or increased while the deer population failed to keep pace or declined, it would become too difficult to kill any deer. This may explain why the native hunters were unable to continue sourcing deer on the reservation. As a result of population decline, hunters would require increased effort/time as the population reached lower and lower numbers, preventing them from achieving high kill rates. The only reason populations of deer are not exterminated in this scenario is because of the effort relationship on the part of hunters in general – they tend to give up when it gets too hard, thus allowing the population of deer to eventually rebound.
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, beauty and stability of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise. We don’t want to throw any deer under the proverbial bus, but after two hunts outside the reservation, the deer population may rebound and both the MNR and native hunters will reconsider the convenience of hunting in a multi-use park that is the subject of heavy protesting and at a potential cost of up to $200,000 to the taxpayers each hunting season.
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is the one that comes with a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t” ~ Henry Ward Beecher