Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Photos: Short Hills Wildlife Alliance and Heather Clemenceau
In 2014, concerned citizens in the Niagara Region once again called for for an end to deer hunts in the 1,700 acre Short Hills Provincial Park. Citing concerns for public safety including hunters trespassing on private property, Regional Councillors sent letters to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) requesting that it not allow future hunts. Through a long-standing but questionable treaty agreement, Haudenosaunee aboriginal hunters have been allowed into the closed park to kill deer with bows and arrows. A first hunt in the park took place over four days in January 2013 and a second was held for eight days in November 2013, finishing out 2014 with a hunt in November/December. In order to depict the disregard with which the deer have been killed and left in various stages of dismemberment in the park, please be aware that this blog post does include some graphic or disturbing images.
The reasons for opposing the hunt are as varied as the demonstrators, many of whom have stood vigilant at the entrance to the park before dawn and after sunset in a cold so numbing that it was physically painful. The protesters consist of those opposed to hunting in a park that is traditionally used for walking, cycling, hiking, birdwatching and horseback riding, those who question the treaty rights, and others who are simply opposed to hunting the semi-tame deer (akin to hunting at Marineland) or have questioned the MNR’s ability to determine whether the park is suffering from deer overpopulation issues as is claimed. Although I’m personally opposed to sport hunting, and bow hunting in particular, I can’t really object to First Nations hunting, fishing, or gathering rights that take place on lands that are not adjacent to homes or schools, or Crown lands that are
generally not used by non-hunters. That description doesn’t characterize Short Hills Park.
Unlike so many animal welfare or animal rights issues, there is widespread political support to ending the hunt. Jim Bradley (MPP St. Catharines), Kim Craitor (MPP Niagara Falls – now retired) and Tim Hudak (MPP Niagara West) and all Town Councils of Pelham, Thorold, St. Catharines and Reg. Council of Niagara are in opposition. The issue is still considered largely untouchable by many politicians, including the Ontario Premier, because it’s also an issue of Native rights. Regional Council, which last fall demanded the province put a stop to the eight days of native deer hunting in the Park, agreed to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources to look into alleged safety violations during that hunt and to take steps to ensure public safety. “I’m not into disputing the contents of the treaty,” said St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley. “I simply feel this particular park is not the appropriate place for a deer hunt of this kind.”
I don’t live near Short Hills, but there are many similarities between it and the large forest near my home – one that I’ve ridden horses in for more than a decade. By contrast, hunting is not permitted in the majority of the 2,300 hectare York Regional Forest. The groomed and manicured trails are not open to hunters or members of the public on a snowmobile or ATV – the small tracts that are used for hunting are raw forest, not typically close to homes. The forest is used year-round for the following activities, which can be enjoyed by anyone:
- Dog walking
- Bird watching
- Horseback riding
- Cross country skiing
- Mountain biking
- Geocaching and snowshoe strolls
- Walks with naturalists to identify the local plants and animals
- Holiday themed events for families
When trails are used for these activities, they should not simultaneously be used for hunting – the hunters need to stay in the designated areas. Since only a small percentage of the Ontario population hunts, why should non-hunters be forced to share the park with people who want to kill animals? If any of these tracts of the York Regional Forest were suddenly opened up to hunting, I would be there everyday in protest as well. There are more than enough of these designated, less populous areas without encroaching onto trails designated for use by everyone.
Contentiousness is not new to deer hunting. Any deer herd is the result of a complex interaction between food supply, population size, reproduction, mortality factors, exposure to prey animals, movements, weather, and past history. We are continually buffeted with reports that there are too many deer on Crown lands. Whenever the MNR tells us that hunts are needed to “control the population” we know they are only kidding themselves. The fact that the MNR claims there needs to be a hunt twice a year in Short Hills two years in a row shows that killing animals is not an effective way to manage populations, because animal populations tend to rebound after hunting due to the compensatory rebound effect and other factors. And if the deer do actually run out of food in the park they will simply walk away and forage elsewhere. There are no fences around the park to stop them. The fact that they love to eat the grapes from the nearby winery is a testament to the fact that they ignore boundaries entirely.
Regardless of motivation, I think it’s safe to assume that the demonstrators all feel that this cull is a deadly farce perpetrated by those with no
knowledge of population dynamics of wildlife. Those of us who object to killing deer for no good reason have raised the difficult question about the ethical justification of the hunt.
Bow hunting is, next to trapping, the least humane way of killing animals. An invention of the Stone Age, still alive in the 21st century, it is clearly a very cruel way to torture and kill animals without regard for their pain and suffering. Unlike bullets, arrows loop while in transit. Whereas a gun hunter takes dead aim at an animal, an archer must estimate the distance from the target and adjust the shot to compensate for the trajectory of the arrow. Animals commonly jump on hearing the release of the arrow—they reflexively move some distance before the arrow reaches them from wherever they were at the time of the shot. According to experts, animals can completely evade an arrow at a distance of 15 to less than 20 yards, which means they can also partially evade the arrow and become wounded.
The inaccuracy inherent in bow hunting is demonstrated by professional archers. Olympic class-archers hit the “bulls eye,” – the centre of the target – even under ideal conditions when the target is not moving and unobstructed – only part of the time. Therefore, I maintain that bow hunters are quite aware that their hunting will virtually always cause slow death as they wait the recommended time – up to 12 hours, for the animal to die. Blood trails on the site provide definitive proof that bow hunted animals do not drop where they stand. Precisely because the target is moving and because of the numerous variables contributing to the pattern of the moving arrow, wounding is inevitable.
Dozens of scientific studies show that bow hunting yields more than a 50 percent wounding rate. Therefore, if only 21 deer were killed (recovered) in the 2014 hunt as the MNR has stated, we can perhaps conclude that as many as two dozen additional deer were injured and unrecovered, to die later somewhere on the grounds, perhaps after attracting coyotes. On the last day of the hunt on 2013, there were gunshots heard in the park which was suspected to be MNR cleaning up the wounded.
(Click the pause button to halt the slide show)
Interestingly, the Haudenosaunee claim to have a 90-95% accuracy rate, which seems implausible to me. The spokesperson for the hunters – Paul Williams, claims that they have a 5-10% error rate. Williams also adds that the average recreational bow hunt where the deer are wounded and not taken as kills by the hunter are about 30-40%, which is still not consistent with scientific studies. However, if indeed the hunters have a error rate of 10% or less, I would suggest that they get on an Olympic team, where they would do well pitted against some of the most highly skilled archers in the world, who claim to have an accuracy rating of about 90% (with a non-reactive target).
The single most farcical element in the Short Hills hunt is surely provided by the presence of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Think “Waterloo” and immediately the phrase, “catastrophic failure” comes to mind. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is supposed to act as the steward of Ontario’s provincial parks, forests, fisheries, wildlife, mineral aggregates, and the crown lands and waters that make up close to 90% of our province. However, it’s been quite some time if at all since the MNR was truly interested in protecting wildlife beyond making sure there are sufficient numbers to exploit through the sale of hunting licenses. It seems obvious that even in winter the habitat can obviously sustain the numbers, since thus far no one has presented any imagery of sick or emaciated deer. In fact, pictures taken by homeowners backing onto the park and visitors show that the deer are healthy and in good flesh. By contrast, the Ministry expects everyone to believe that after 3 hunts, poaching, year-round hunting on adjacent private property and a terrible winter, the deer population persistently exceeds its carrying capacity by several hundred animals.
The hunt has devastated the budget for the Short Hills – the MNR spent $84,000 to organize a total of 12 days of hunting (not including the cost for 2014) – almost 4 times the annual budget of the entire park at just under $25,000. Not included in this cost are the salaries of 6-12 Niagara Regional and OPP officers at the park each and every day of the hunt, along with other branches of government such as legal, historical, and aboriginal affairs, provided courtesy of the taxpayer.
The hunt also permits activities that are not allowed by visitors to the park at any other time. This includes the use of trucks by the hunters and ATVs used by the MNR/Ontario Parks staff. The vehicles leave deep ruts in a property where walkers are reminded by signage not to walk on the trails when they are muddy, to avoid damage. Damage to the park from the last hunt was left all year long as a mess and only repaired not for the regular patrons of Short Hills, but for the hunters. Now it’s ruined yet again and will no doubt be left for another year now that the budget has been exhausted.
The 1,700-acre forest is surrounded by private property and about 100 homes, and although the MNR has created a no-hunt buffer zone between the park and private property lines, the buffer zone – 150 metres from the edge of the park, has been breached by hunters in the past. “…Even if you put up a note [sic] trespassing sign I’m not going to stay off your damn property,” writes Bruin Pol on a Facebook page supporting the Short Hills deer hunt.
The MNR also marked some trees with a confusing array of colours signifying that the hunt boundary (marked with blue paint) and buffer zone (marked with red paint) were one and the same
when the latter should logically be 150 metres from the hunt zone.
The Ministry also set a limit of 30 native hunters (which they refer to as a protocol). However, we know that this is a totally non-binding limit since the hunters chose to ignore it without consequence. Each day, protesters observed up to 70 hunters entering the property despite the presence of this “limit.” With 30 – 70 hunters present on each day and only 21 deer killed in total as of this last hunt in 2014, we must of course question the MNR’s statements about deer overpopulation in the park, along with any claims of the effectiveness or accuracy of the hunters. When deer were observed in truck beds leaving Short HIlls, it was also noted that they were in good apparent health and not emaciated, once again, disproving claims of overpopulation. If the deer population is too large and the park ecosystem can’t sustain the deer, in winter of all seasons, why are the deer of healthy weight and suitable to hunt? Wouldn’t the majority of them be underweight? It is a fact that a government biologist confirmed on the last day of hunt that all the deer were healthy.
We can mock the MNR for their unsubstantiated statements about the hunt, but at the close of the December hunt, their frustration with the demonstrators escalated and became downright dangerous. Protesters complained of lewd gestures by one MNR employee along with the childish theft of a protest sign by another. This petty theft meant that the police had to retrieve the sign from the individual and return it personally to the protester, at additional cost. The most outrageous offense by an MNR employee occurred when he aggressively pushed a protester several feet out into the road with a truck – a vehicular assault that is still being investigated by the police.
Criticism of the hunt and bow hunting specifically has led to some unjustified cries of favouritism or racism by the demonstrators. The accusation of favouritism has been made because only natives were invited to participate in a hunt that some felt should have been open to others, and racism because hunting critics have inevitably drawn in Six Nations people as part of the criticism of the hunt. Prolonging of the public dispute has been largely fueled by the Social Justice Research Institute of nearby Brock University, representing the head-desk, side-eye, face-palm state of academic publishing, via a blog post that derisively referred to protesters as “settler or colonial racists,” as if none of the Brock students or faculty are “settlers” or “colonists” either. I would agree that it would be racist to suggest that natives should have no treaty rights at all, but it’s no more racist to protest this hunt than it is wrong to critique consumption of bear paw or shark fin soup, or the use of elephant tusk or rhino horn (albeit these are endangered animals). All ideas and traditions must be open to criticism regardless of origin and without charges of racism in order that we not shield intrinsically harmful ideas from criticism. And, unlike a person’s racial or cultural characteristics or gender, beliefs can be argued for, tested, criticized, and changed.
In their now infamous blog post accusing the protesters of racism, colonialism, and sexism, the SJRI never once addresses the interdisciplinary scholarly field of critical animal studies, which is
also taught at Brock University. Rooted in animal liberation, CAS is dedicated to establishing total liberation for humans, nonhuman animals, and the earth. Animal rights and animal welfare are the next big hurdles for humans to cross, so it’s rather shocking that the SJRI chose not to incorporate these issues into their blog post on the hunting demonstration. The blog author and initiator of the counter-protest, Jodie Lynn Harrison, ignores the fact that relations between humans and non-human animals are now at a point of crisis. Strangely, Ms. Harrison also made claims of sexual harassment (whether against the Brock students or the Haudenosaunee is unknown).
Nor can Ms. Harrison’s behaviour escape criticism, since she introduced herself to some demonstrators and police as a “Professor from Brock University,” who enabled some of the hunters to bypass the official entry point to the park (and the protesters) by trespassing on the adjacent Boy Scouts property in a vehicle owned by the hunters while the camp was attended by children. By most accounts, Ms. Harrison was rarely on-site at the park and yet has conducted her own personal smear campaign by making exaggerated or outright false claims about the protesters in an attempt to create support for treaty rights. Ms. Harrison did no apparent review of the history of the hunt, had no participation in last 2 hunts, no attendance at Regional Council, no FOI of safety protocol and yet she proclaimed the hunt to be “safe.”
Protesting against hunting is not, in my opinion, an example of contemporary settler colonialism and certainly not sexism or racism, as claimed by the SJRI. I also think it’s logically fallacious to assume that anyone who questions the 1701 Nanfan Treaty is automatically a racist, nor does it mean that one does not believe in treaty rights. Six Nations people have used the 1701 Nanfan Treaty in their defense to win court cases about hunting outside of reserves but the validity of the treaty itself has not been challenged in court. Many historians claim that the application of the Treaty in what is now southwestern Ontario is questionable since the Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois had already surrendered that land to the Mississauga and other Ojibwa Indians a year earlier in June 1700.
I don’t believe there is anyone alive who can atone for the intentional acts of destruction and violence against aboriginal peoples. Settler colonialism in Canada spanned several hundred years and included mass killings and other depopulations, extreme negligence in the form of unchecked and facilitated spread of disease, along with large scale expropriation of lands and forced assimilation. Protesters against the hunt are actually agnostic with regard to the subjects of the demonstration – it makes no difference who the hunters are. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in Canada’s constitution, guarantees us the freedom of peaceful assembly in section 2(c). I suggest that the SJRI and Ms. Harrison reflect on the accusations they have made and take to heart and mind the words of Peter Marler, a pioneer in the field of animal communication. He once gave invaluable professional counsel to one of his colleagues- “Slow down, reflect more, and publish less.”
Short Hills is Ontario’s smallest provincial park. It hasn’t seen hunting in 50 years. It has long been regarded as a park where both flora and fauna are to be conserved under the laws of the Ontario government – Not “conserved” for the use of hunters who may rip through the property in vehicles that are not a permissible at any other time in the forest. If it is acceptable for people to hunt every year in Short Hills, why doesn’t the Ontario government consistently allow hunting in any other park or conservation land? We’ve also seen from the MNR expenditures that hunting is not a “sport” that is economically viable, at least not without significant handouts.
When humans interfere with nature the results are rarely good and such is the case with culling populations. According to a recent study, more livestock are killed after wolves are culled than when populations are left alone. Treehugger reports that Washington State University researchers combed through 25 years worth of data and uncovered that for each wolf killed, the odds of a sheep dying goes up by 4% and the likelihood of cattle getting killed by wolves jumps by 5-6%. So what could possibly be the explanation for these unintended consequences? According to the research, wolf pack stability is paramount when it comes to controlling the impact of wolves on livestock and culling them disrupts the social order of the packs, leading to more breeding. And more breeding is the end result of the instability created by deer hunts, especially when food is in plentiful supply.
For most people, the decision to protest is not an objection to treaty rights or an act of discrimination against the Haudenosaunee. The Six Nations people are used by the MNR to get a temporary herd thin and they avoid the political fallout. But the deer do not care about the culture, religion, sex, interests, politics, or skin colour of the people who kill them. There are many conscientious objectors to deer hunting who are in lockstep with other single-issue campaigns by Natives, such as tree-cutting in aboriginal forests and fracking. We fight against the deer hunt because it is a cruel, needless killing spree where quick kills are the exception.