Alta. rural group wants help with elk problem

County officials say numbers are out of control and cause damage to fences and crops

EDMONTON — Landowners want governments to do more to help control Alberta’s growing elk population and increase the compensation for damages by the roaming animals.

“We would like to see the province do something to increase the elk harvest so the farmers have to feed less elk,” Dale Gervais, reeve of the Municipal District of Greenview, said during debate on one of two elk resolutions brought forward during the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties convention.

“Producers in this area are not convinced the provincial government is doing enough to rectify the problem and not doing enough to compensate producers for the damages being done,” said Gervais, who asked the province to increase the number of elk tags.

“We need to relieve some of the financial pressure on the farmers who are being devastated by elk damage.”

The provincial government paid almost $7 million in compensation to Peace River region farmers in 2011 and 2012 for non-waterfowl damage.

Gervais believe the roaming herds of elk cause even more damage than what farmers claim, especially in the fall when herds can reach 200 animals.

“In the fall they congregate in an area. That is when they do the most damage,” he said.

Richard Harpe of Grande Prairie County said farmers should be allowed to control the elk that are damaging their crops.

“Can you put your common sense to work? Do something with our elk problem,” he told cabinet ministers during a bear pit session at the convention.

“Elk can wreck $200,000 worth of canola. When they finish eating they crawl on top of the grain bags and farmers are supposed to keep their guns locked up and look the other way while their very livelihood disappears.”

Environment minister Kyle Fawcett said the province has increased the number of hunting licences and elk tags, especially in the southern and northwestern Alberta, to deal with the elk problems.

“The challenge is trying to find a balance between issuing enough licences to start to reduce the population and balancing that with safety issues when you get too many hunters,” said Fawcett.

Special landowner licences to allow landowners to shoot antlerless elk on farms with more than 160 acres is another attempt to reduce elk problems, he said.

Fawcett said he is open to strategies other than increasing hunting licences to help control elk.

“The issue of elk population is an obvious annoyance for many people who live in rural Alberta and have to live with the consequences, whether it be broken and busted fences or the fact of elk getting into their crops,” said Fawcett.

The government is developing a plan to help control elk around the Canadian Forces Base near Suffield, he added.

It also plans to develop an advisory council on wildlife to gather more feedback and ideas to control the elk population.

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