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    Fur ruffles feather
    By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

    They're feathered and furred. They're pawed, clawed, beaked and hooved. They're considered cute and cuddly, ferocious and intimidating.

    They're bears, coyotes, deer and wild turkeys, distinguished representatives of Ontario's abundant wildlife, a sector that, unlike agriculture, is expanding in leaps and bounds.

    That's partly because these animals are coddled by an even more rapidly growing sector, the provincial bureaucracy which for at least two decades has given forest creatures precedence over the humans with whom they co-exist cheek by jowl.

    As a result, the animals are, well, going wild, invading in greater numbers than ever turf that has been set aside for human uses such as farms and rural residences.

    And as a result of that, OFA president Geri Kamenz has come out gunning for those provincial bureaucrats and their political masters, accusing them of failing to properly manage marauding wildlife.

    Speaking during the Dundas Federation of Agriculture annual general meeting held in Chesterville Feb. 22, Geri named bears, coyotes, deer and wild turkey as particular pests in Eastern Ontario as well as other parts of the province.

    Something must be done to right the imbalance, he insists.

    A Spencerville area cash cropper and hog producer, he describes losses resulting from wildlife encroachment as one of the most pressing issues facing Ontario farmers today.

    He estimates that millions of dollars in crop and livestock damage, along with human safety issues, make it mandatory that the provincial government becomes much more pro-active in curbing the wildlife invasion.

    He didn't say this but I'm going to toss it in for effect: If South Africa can go back to culling elephants, one of the world's most venerable beasts, to bring ballooning populations under control, you'd think we in Ontario could get away with taking out a few extra bears, deer, coyotes and wild turkeys.

    Since domestic and international pressure led the South African government in 1995 to introduce a moratorium on elephant culling, numbers have risen from 8,000 to 18,000, saddling many game parks with unsustainable populations.

    Geri blames wildlife difficulties here primarily on provincial programs gone awry, and - in the case of coyotes invading Ottawa suburbs and surrounding farms - on no aggressive management plan.

    It's come to the point, he scoffs, that rather than curtailing the bear population through the sanctioned annual hunt which was banned several years ago, provincial authorities are instead funding the teaching of vulnerable elementary students in bear-rich areas as to what to do should they encounter a menacing one in their backyard.

    It's called the Bear Wise program and it's all part of the province's commitment to conserving biodiversity, Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield has stated.

    The upsurge of deer is due to an MNR herd rebuilding program launched several years ago; wild turkeys have thrived following reintroduction in the region, once again several years ago; and black bears have been invading human territory in greater numbers since the former hunt was outlawed.

    Not only do deer chow down on farm crops, they cause death and injuries to motorists in vehicle collisions, which are greater in number every year in the Ottawa area than anywhere else in Ontario.

    Marauding coyotes are making off with farm animals and family pets, while soaring numbers of wild turkeys have become another major hazard to crops.

    While coyotes - if you get close enough - can be shot on site where use of firearms is permitted, deer, wild turkeys and bear are protected. MNR has extended the deer hunting season, but it still charges hunters with minor technical infractions in their efforts to reduce this particular pest factor.

    With one-time "nuisance permits" more readily available to farmers with deer problems, Geri would like to see similar permits issued routinely to deal with pesky turkeys and bears.

    That's really not too much to ask. After all, they shoot elephants don't they?

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