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Open season on farm fires

A Saskatchewan Wildlife officer checks a hunter's rifle during a routine stop. Beyond the usual rules, hunters are being asked to be aware of the fire risks they present this season.  |  File photo

Hunting season is underway across the Prairies but the effects of this year’s drought have filtered into the fall pastime.

Saskatchewan has announced a fire ban across large parts of the central portion of the province and issued a statement specifically warning hunters to be especially vigilant.

“With hunting season comes more human activity and, as a result, more human-caused fire starts,” said Steve Roberts, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency vice-president. “The SPSA encourages all residents, including hunters, to exercise caution to prevent fire starts and for all municipalities to examine the fire risk in their area.”

Most rural municipalities in Alberta south of Edmonton have fire advisories or restrictions in place.

Kyle Forbes, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association chair, said the fall fire risk is real and it’s imperative that hunters seek permission to access land from leaseholders and property owners, who’ll be aware of local conditions.

“For us down here in southeastern and majority of southern Alberta, fire is by far the biggest concern that producers are worried about,” said Forbes. “That mainly comes from vehicle access into areas, whether that is with permission or without permission.”

The relationship between hunters and ranchers is usually cordial with both respecting the rights and responsibilities of the other.

“There are bad apples in every bunch so that kind of puts the strain on the relationship for sure,” said Forbes.

AGLA has been working with the province regarding hunting on public lands under grazing dispositions to ensure everyone understands the responsibilities of leaseholders to ensure safe use of Crown property, specifically on the enforcement side and use of the Report a Poacher program.

“Everybody has got a smart phone now so you can go out there and take a picture of the licence plate of the vehicle or the infraction and submit it that way,” said Forbes. “You don’t have to go to court anymore, they just issue a ticket. It makes our lives a whole lot easier now.”

But the issue can be tricky when it comes to Crown land under agricultural disposition, said Forbes, with many hunters not necessarily fully informed on access regulations. Specifically, when cattle are grazing on leases, hunting activity can be limited and there is no regulation regarding when cattle need to be taken off such lands.

“That’s the biggest misconception,” said Forbes. “Say Oct. 15, people seem to think that cattle are required to be off our leases and after that point, it’s free to access, which is not true.”

With the expansion of grazing along the Eastern Slopes in Alberta and other regions due to the lack of feed, there will likely be a lot of cattle on Crown land, said Forbes.

Manitoba has reported several conflicts with hunters and agricultural producers this year.

Three hunters were fined and a bull elk seized after they entered private land without permission to recover the animal shot on Crown land in the Rural Municipality of Boissevain-Morton.

In the same area, a hunter was arrested after he took a bull elk on private property without permission and dragged the animal onto a wildlife management area where it was field dressed.

That individual faces fines of nearly $2,500, a restitution order of up to $5,000 and the elk and rifle used were seized.

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