FARMERS MOBILIZING TO ADDRESS ELK DAMAGES
it’s been a decade old problem—elk causing thousands of dollars in crop damages to farmers in the Bancroft region. A grassroots group has emerged to address this issue dubbed the North Hastings and Area Farmers and Landowners Association. They are requesting compensation from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for the crop damages they have been suffering due to the introduction of elk in the region.
As part of the Provincial Elk Restoration Program in 2000, 120 elk were released in the Bancroft area. Since the release in 2000, the MNR have received reports of crop and property damage. Dave Parks and his wife Penny have been farming in the region for over four years and used their entire life savings to purchase their dream farm, specializing in high quality horse hay and running a small cow-calf operation. He says that it’s been an ongoing problem and he estimates that he has lost over $25,000 this past year alone in crop damages. He notes that the damage has exceeded far beyond financial matters and has impacted his personal life. “The part people don’t see is the stress it puts on your family life.” He often wakes up in the middle of the night to try and chase the elk from his field crops.
Parks has been persistent that the MNR try to negotiate a solution. In response to these concerns, Jolanta Kowalsky spokesperson for the MNR says “the Ministry of Natural Resources is working with landowners in an attempt to resolve their concerns through the testing of a variety of elk exclusion techniques including electric and page wire fencing.” Parks says he wants the MNR to take responsibility for what he terms “the domesticated nuisance predator.” The MNR has tried to control the problem through building a fence on Park’s property but it hasn’t been effective. He says, “I am at a cross roads right now, to either continue with this battle or just quit farming all together.”
But farmers are not standing alone on this issue; they have support from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) who has been working on this case for over six years. Senior Policy Researcher, Peter Jeffery says, “It’s been frustrating to try and get action on parts of the government.” But they are optimistic that their approach of presenting this case to the Ministry over and over again will hopefully bring some closure to the dispute. As Jeffery suggests, “we are getting close to the finish line.”
Parks firmly believes that the solution is multi-faceted and the problem should be dealt with through implementing kill permits, hunting and fencing. Recently, the MNR made amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to add elk to the list of species that can be harassed, captured or killed in protection of property under authorization of the Ministry. They have also engaged in pubic consultations regarding a proposed policy for protecting agricultural property from elk. hrough these consultations the information gathered will help determine the most effective way to protect property from the elk. Kowalsky says, “we are currently in the midst of reviewing comments and considering changes based on consultation.”
Parks says that the North Hastings Landowners Association’s main purpose right now is to educate the public on the issue to help pressure the MNR to speed up negations on a long-term solution. Parks asserts that it hasn’t been until more recently that the MNR is being more cooperative compared to the past when he was labeled a “troublemaker.” Kowalsky says, “the MNR staff will continue to work with local farmers, municipalities and partners to help reduce the impacts of elk through community based solutions.” •