Hay theft reflects level of farmer desperation

Alberta SPCA provincial supervisor Stuart Dodds, left, and Alberta Environment and Parks conservation officer Rob Spellicy receive 11 bales that were recovered from a rural property. | Alberta SPCA photo

RCMP investigate after grass was illegally hayed in an Alberta park and bales stolen before they could be recovered

Theft of about $10,000 in hay bales gathered without a permit from a provincial park in Alberta, and then allegedly stolen before they could be donated to a charity, is being seen as an example of the desperate situation many livestock producers face.

Due to widespread drought and heat waves that have caused poor hay crops and rising prices across much of Western Canada, “people are going to whatever length to secure feed,” said Stuart Dodds, provincial supervisor for the Alberta SPCA.

After the round hay bales were found in the park by conservation officers, Alberta Environment and Parks decided to donate them to the SPCA. However, the bales were removed by an unknown party before the charity could pick them up.

It had planned to use them as feed in case livestock are seized from producers this winter, said Dodds. He warned the feed shortage means everyone from large livestock producers to hobby farmers with horses need to make plans to secure feed or downsize herds as they head into this fall and winter.

Failure to prevent animals from starving in Alberta can result in everything from fines of up to $20,000 to prohibitions on owning livestock, and “it could become a big problem in these coming months,” he said.

Alberta Environment and Parks was informed July 17 that a grassy area within Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park near Edmonton and St. Albert had been illegally hayed, the department said in an email. “Haying within a provincial park or protected area requires a permit; the department did not issue a haying permit for that location.”

Eleven bales were subsequently recovered from a rural property by the department in connection with the original complaint and donated to the Alberta SPCA, said Dodds. However, someone else appears to have separately come in and removed about 70 of the bales that remained in the park, he added.

It is the first such incident known to Dodds involving a public park.

“We’re hearing stories at the moment, just odd little stories of feed being stolen, but that’s from people’s fields and things like that.

“I think people are just getting a bit desperate and trying whatever they can to get supplies … If producers have a lot of feed on hand in yards and what have you, they need to be making sure that it’s secure because somebody might come in and attempt to take it, so you need to be careful around especially these rural areas.”

The alleged theft is believed to have occurred between July 31 and Aug. 5, said the email by Alberta Environment and Parks. Although the matter is currently part of a criminal investigation by the St. Albert RCMP for alleged theft over $5,000, efforts by The Western Producer to contact the detachment for further information were unsuccessful.

It wouldn’t have been easy to remove the bales, Dodds said in the statement by the Alberta SPCA. “Collecting 70 bales would have required a bale picker as well as numerous loads on a flatbed semi-trailer.”

Due to the fact it is difficult to predict in advance the severity of the upcoming winter, hay is purchased by the Alberta SPCA on a case-by-case basis as livestock seizures occur, he said in an interview.

“We couldn’t buy a whole bunch of bales now and just have them sit there for two years because it’ll just go mouldy, and if we don’t use them, it’s a waste of time and money, isn’t it?”

Anyone with information about the alleged theft can contact the Conservation Officer Enforcement Line at 780-644-3880, or the St. Albert RCMP.

For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.

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