Sask. ranchers call for elk cull at Suffield base

MAPLE CREEK, Sask. — Southwestern Saskatchewan cattle ranchers near the Canadian Forces Base at Suffield, Alta., want the elk population on the base reduced.

They say stocking rates on Crown grazing land are based on how many cattle the land can support, not elk. As elk numbers on the base burgeon, the animals have moved outside its boundaries and onto leased land.

One rancher at the District 4 meeting of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association said he shares a fence line with the British Block, as Suffield is locally known.

He told the meeting that the base fences were changed to help wildlife. The lower wires were raised to help antelope get underneath, and the top wires were dropped because female elk were moving for water and leaving calves behind.

“Before, they were very concentrated in the block,” he said. “Now they’re going here there and everywhere.”

Angus McDougald, the rancher who moved a motion that Alberta and Canada be lobbied to reduce the elk numbers, said the animals have to be kept in check.

“The elk have expanded very quickly,” he said. “Instead of waiting 10 more years and 100 elk end up at my place let’s start lobbying them now to control their elk.”

Kathryn Bohnet, who raises cattle with her family near Maple Creek, is also a veterinarian. She said proper populations are key for all species.

Too many elk concentrated in an area could result in a chronic wasting disease problem, she said. The brain-wasting disease has been found in elk tested from the Suffield herd.

“We need to keep all of the populations under control,” she said. “We need to talk about how people who live on the land like to see the wildlife but we like to see them in healthy populations.

“We just don’t want to see 400 (elk) come and set up shop and eat everything that we have.”

Ryder Lee, the chief executive officer of SCA, reminded ranchers that Saskatchewan has a strong wildlife and predator compensation program.

“If you’ve got wildlife doing damage to your crops or your stacks let crop insurance know right away that you’ve got 100 elk camped on your place,” he said. “If we’re letting them know, they’re letting environment know and it helps manage the Queen’s livestock that way.”

District director and current SCA chair Rick Toney said the organization has raised concerns about elk with the provincial government.

Elk from Suffield were the suspected cause of a tuberculosis outbreak in cattle a couple of years ago, although none tested positive.

Toney said TB is a concern but less so than the numbers of elk on pastures.

“We have lease land and we are given the stewardship of the land,” he said. “We have to take proper care of it. How do I graze it properly when I have 100 yearlings, and an elk will probably eat what a yearling eats, and they come in on my land?

“How do I look after it? Are they going to reduce my lease rates?”

The resolution is expected to appear on the agenda at the SCA annual meeting in Saskatoon Jan. 30.

At that time, Randy Stokke from Consul will replace Toney as district director. Toney has been on the SCA board since its inception and did not seek re-election.

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