It's time to put old prejudices to rest

BY Paul Turenne. Sep 17 04:00 am

With the World Cup of Hockey set to begin, we Canadians are about to undertake one of our favourite pastimes — hating on Americans.

That’s all in good fun when it comes to hockey rivalries, but it’s a more serious issue when it comes to welcoming American visitors to our country, which can be an especially prickly subject come hunting season.

Hunters and anglers from south of the border have been coming to Manitoba for nearly as long as Manitoba has been around. Our close proximity to the U.S., combined with our pristine wilderness and healthy game populations, have long attracted outdoors enthusiasts here, not just from the U.S., but from across Canada and the world.

However, there is no question Americans make up the bulk of Manitoba’s non-resident angling and hunting population, as well as the bulk of any complaints locals may have from time to time about foreigners squeezing them off of spots or behaving poorly.

Common complaints range from American duck and goose hunters tying up access to farmland, to American poachers cutting the heads off moose or deer and leaving the carcasses to rot (which I unequivocally condemn). Concern is also expressed about whether licences should even be available to Americans, especially when it comes to game populations in decline, or populations relied upon by local indigenous hunters in remote areas.

While each of these concerns deserves attention and legitimate public policy debate, I’m here to offer you the following perspective: Americans are not the problem; and never will be.

Now, as executive director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, I obviously have a professional stake in supporting Americans. But I would do it anyway. In fact, I always have, even prior to taking on this job, and for good reason.

I’ve been around American hunters and anglers most of my life. I worked at a fly-in fishing lodge as a teenager, did my first outdoor trade show in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago, and for the past several years I’ve represented the tourism sector that welcomes thousands of American hunters and anglers to Manitoba every year. The sum of those experiences has taught me one simple thing: Americans, it turns out, are just like everyone else. Some of them are jerks, some of them are wonderful people, and most of them are just regular folks somewhere in between. Just like Canadians, South Africans, Jamaicans, or anyone else.

The fact that they are hunters doesn’t change that. It would be foolish to suggest no American hunter has ever committed a wildlife violation here in Manitoba, but it would be equally foolish to suggest wildlife violations are the exclusive domain of non-resident hunters. Our provincial court system is rife with examples of home-grown poachers, but one Manitoban breaking the law says no more about “Canadian hunters” than an individual American lawbreaker does about his U.S. brethren. Let’s all remember what it felt like as hunters to get lumped in with the guy who shot Cecil the Lion, even though he represents all hunters no more than he represents all dentists from Minnesota.

If Americans were breaking our laws in disproportionate numbers, that would be one thing, but they’re not. In fact, non-residents are easily the most scrutinized and monitored group of hunters in Manitoba. Foreign residents are required to hire a provincially licensed outfitter to hunt big game here, and must be supervised by a licensed guide. All outfitters are required to submit reports of their clients’ hunts to the provincial government. In fact, outfitted clients are the only hunters for whom harvest reporting is mandatory here in Manitoba. These rules wouldn’t necessarily prevent an American from breaking the law, but they sure do make it harder than for anyone else.

Most American hunters actually hate poachers. While too much Rick Mercer might lead us Canadians to feel smug and superior, the truth is the hunter-conservationist ethic is deeply engrained in the U.S. American state-run fish and wildlife management regimes are often miles ahead of our Canadian efforts, while most of the world’s largest hunter-conservationist organizations, like Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Safari Club International Foundation, are headquartered in the United States and run by Americans. I work first-hand with several Americans who are putting more personal effort into ensuring the sustainability of wildlife populations here in Canada than most Canadians are.

The point is, don’t paint all American hunters with the same brush. It’s not quite racism, but it’s certainly a form of prejudice and xenophobia, and there is no room for that in our hunting community. Assuming someone is a poacher because of where they live or where they come from is wrong on all levels, whether that person is an Indigenous Canadian, an Italian-American, or a Russian Jew. Judge everyone as an individual, including hunters, and you will soon see the only line that needs drawing is between poachers and legal, ethical hunters, regardless of their background.

It’s true that arriving at your favourite hunting spot only to find a truck with a Minnesota plate already there can be frustrating for many Manitobans, but is it more frustrating than finding a Manitoba plate there? Plus, it’s no different than American tourists jamming our Folklorama pavilions or beating you out for Jets tickets. It’s called tourism, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any politician, policymaker or academic who will tell you tourism isn’t a huge benefit to any community.

If one of our game populations dips into unsustainable territory, management decisions need to be made and priority access policies need to be discussed. But so long as our harvest levels remain sustainable, we should welcome all those who hunt legally, respectfully and responsibly to our fields and forests, regardless of where they live.

Paul Turenne is the executive director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association.