BY EVAN LINTICK • PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICIA DERBYSHIRE
It is common in Alberta for hunters to request access to private agricultural land throughout the year. In the past, this was generally not problematic. In recent years, however, farmers have noted an increase in trespassing and rural crime. Unwanted trespassers have reportedly caused significant crop and property damage. They have also been blamed for the spread of crop and livestock diseases, which can be transported on vehicles and footwear. Anecdotally, this has deterred farmers from granting access to their land and created a barrier in the relationship between farmers and hunters.
In recent years, Alberta has been one of the only jurisdictions in North America that has seen the number of hunters increase annually. In Alberta, wildlife such as deer and waterfowl have the potential to damage crops and hunters play a pivotal role in maintaining these populations.
Dave Bishop farms near Barons and is the past chair of Alberta Barley. He has observed it is often not hunters who are to blame for these impacts but would-be criminals trespassing without permission. “The rise in crime and trespassing has really pushed producers away from allowing anyone on the land, as it is hard to continually monitor who is legally allowed on the land,” he said.
The Alberta government recently took action to help reduce the spike in rural crime by amending the Petty Trespassing Act and the Occupiers’ Liability Act. These amendments increase fines and jail time for trespassers and are intended to protect farmers from liability for injuries individuals may incur while trespassing. The government also announced a $286 million, five-year policing agreement in December 2020. The agreement has allowed the RCMP to put 76 additional constables in the field and fill 57 additional civilian support positions. Small and rural communities will see the most significant increase in police presence.
Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon has made the improvement of hunter access a ministry priority. He tasked the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) to conduct a survey to better understand farmers’ decision-making process in denying hunter access.
ACA is a not-for-profit conservation group that works to conserve, protect and enhance fish and wildlife populations and wildlife habitat. It receives a portion of its funding from the provincial government through fees levied on hunting and fishing licences. In exchange for government funding, the ACA is obliged to provide Alberta Environment and Parks with information on priority issues such as hunter access.
The survey seeks to conclusively identify the key issues that have caused farmers to block hunter access to their land. In addition, the survey is intended to identify areas of the province where gaining access to private land is particularly difficult. The government hopes to better educate all parties by making this information public. In doing so, it will identify potential areas of conflict and the means to resolve them.
The ACA survey is available at albertahunteraccess.com until Jan. 31, 2021. The results of the survey will also be made available at the above website and will be posted on major social media platforms. To receive survey results once they are compiled, participants can submit their email address.
Evan Lintick is AWC and Alberta Barley policy and markets analyst.