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  Predator task force tries hard but meets government indifference
By Catherine Thompson - AgriNews Staff Writer

SPENCERVILLE-Over the last six years, compensation for coyote/wolf damage has gone from $538,000 in 2004-2005 to $1.39 million in 2009/2010.

"There's a pretty clear trend in the way compensation is going. This is only for coyote/wolf damage, not any bear damage," says Amherst Island sheep farmer and Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency vice chair Chris Kennedy.

"I've been working on the predator file for 10 years and it's a very frustrating file to work on. We're dealing with the government and my impression is basically they wish you would shut up and go away. The reason is simple. Dealing with predators doesn't earn votes in urban areas," Kennedy told producers at District 10 Sheep Day on Feb. 19.

Over the last 10 years, OSMA has been working on three aspects. The first is to update the Livestock, Poultry and Honeybee Protection Act, where compensation levels have not been updated for 30 years. Second, is to get more funding for predator prevention and third, to obtain more tools to deal with predation.

In 1997-1998 a study and pilot project in Eastern Ontario showed that snares are effective for problem predation, but the study wasn't followed up, Kennedy said.

The next initiative was a pilot project on Amherst Island to find whether predator resistant fencing worked. "With help from OSCIA (Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association), they fenced about 60 acres. In 10 years, they didn't have a predation kill inside that, but there were lots of kills outside the fence," he explained.

One result from that project was a 30 per cent grant for predator fencing from federal/provincial funding for environmental issues on farms.

When the agricultural policy framework was replaced by the Growing Forward program OSMA lobbied and managed to get the grant level to 50 per cent on the cost of fencing, although they had applied for 90 per cent.

The other 50 per cent was through in-kind contributions. This reduces capital outlay, but putting up fences is a lot of work, Kennedy said.

In 2008, Kennedy was instrumental in getting OFA to form a predator task team.

In 2009, the team recommended more funding for fencing, better training for livestock valuers and more available tools. These recommendations were made to politicians, OMAFRA and MNR, but "both ministries seemed largely uninterested," he continued.

At the 2009 OFA convention, another resolution asked OFA to continue and in July, OMAFRA and MNR put out a discussion paper on agriculture/wildlife conflicts with a focus on updating the act and educating producers. The team kept pushing for more tools and funding for fencing and Kennedy was quite optimistic. But by early January, "we've got absolutely nothing. I've a very nasty feeling that with the election coming up, they want to drop the whole issue," he said.

In the meantime, OSMA has formed its own predation team. This group is trying to help producers with municipal dog control bylaws, and contacting the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters about using other control methods.

Kennedy said the OFAH doesn't like the use of snares because they fear having their hounds caught and pet owners don't like snares for the same reason. "It's a debatable issue what hounds are doing running on your property without permission, but we won't go into that," he added.

This task team is also in discussion with "fur managers" about the use of snares or relaxing cable restraints.

They are also engaged in discussion with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association about upping the level of funding for predator proof fencing.

Kennedy said they've put a lot of work into this file and are plugging away but politically it isn't "a sexy issue".

As for revising the act, Kennedy said compensation could be removed and governed by an Order in Council. "The advantage is it's easier to change and bring it to date. The disadvantage is it doesn't have to go the legislature if they want to abolish it. But if you want to abolish the Livestock, Poultry and Honeybee Compensation Act, it has to go through the legislature."

He added the OSMA team is pushing for higher maximum compensation and the inclusion of more prey species, such as llamas and guard dogs, as well as more predator species. In some areas of the province, ravens are a problem.

Fourthly, the team would like to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in getting compensation. "Under the Livestock Act, you have to go to the municipality and sign an affidavit that you've made a claim. We're trying to get it removed from the new Act. My argument is if the valuer has already verified your claim, you don't need another municipal official to certify it."

OSMA is working with the Ministry of Natural Resources to get a pilot project on relaxing cable restraints. He said these are similar to snares, but if the animal relaxes enough, it can still breathe until it is released, unlike snares, which kill the animal quite quickly.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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