DAN ANDREWS/Niagara Outdoors
Every morning I open my Google home page and look at my widgets. A widget is like a small preview of other web pages you may want to visit.
My widgets include a preview of live weather radar, new email messages and a small version of my calendar. My newest widget I installed came from the Ministry of Natural Resources website and it’s called “Endangered Species of the Day”. Friday’s species was a Crooked-stem aster which has a threatened status. The day before was a Grey Rat snake and there were a variety of plants and critters before that.
When most people think of endangered species they think about Polar bears, tigers and Black Rhino’s. Most don’t seem to make the connection to plant species either in the countryside or in the water but plants are just as affected by our earth domination as the animals are.
Some animal, reptile and bird species will disappear when the plants they need to survive disappear.
The loss of one species or introduction of another species can often trigger a chain reaction.
We don’t build or set aside parks just for us to use and get away from our concrete habitat. We set aside and save land to preserve it and give nature a chance. We don’t have many endangered plants growing in our neighbourhoods. If they could grow here they wouldn’t be threatened at all.
It really is a struggle just to find many of these plants but if you are looking for a place to start it would likely be a conservation area or park.
The biggest threat to these endangered plant species is development, urban expansion and invasive competition but grazing animals can also take a toll on that plant. Perhaps the region’s best example is Navy Island. White tail deer are plentiful on either side of the Niagara River and as every last pocket of vacant land becomes endangered the deer are forced to move to new pastures.
The deer simply swim to the Island and are met with a lush cover of fresh leaves and plants in spring. By summer’s end the bottom six feet of Mother Nature’s artwork has all but been erased by the blooming deer population. The Island cannot overwinter that many deer but there is no place else for them to go. As they grow weaker they become unable to swim back across and many perish. Full skeletal remains were not hard to find here just a decade ago.
This wasn’t always the case. At one point in time the deer would have been eaten by aboriginals or even William Lyon Mackenzie and his rebels.
There are no predators on the Island and since hunting was disallowed the deer have multiplied, devoured the understory and many die annually. That is until the Haudenosaunee started hunting it in 2007. They were met with an estimated 150 deer on this little land mass and according to native spokesman Paul Williams the last count after the hunt was approximately 25.
I travelled there by kayak this winter and there are still plenty of deer tracks but not the trampling there was just 5 years ago. The Island is showing signs of improvement and the deer herd is in no danger of disappearing nor was this ever the intent.
“First and foremost we did this to exercise our “Treaty Rights” said Paul Williams. “We do not hunt for sport, we hunt for food which is used for ceremonies and there were deer here in numbers. This is also an environment issue and other conservation projects will follow such as removing invasive plants.”
The Shorthills hunt has been loudly protested unlike the Navy Island hunt because the park is a place where the public frequents.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has parks throughout Niagara that allow hunting too and they never shut the public out or insist on such strict safety standards yet the safety record at these parks is outstanding.
The NPCA seems to have a better understanding of how ecosystems need us as replacements for the absent predators and value is placed on every species not just deer. There are houses with children playing adjacent to these areas yet everybody seems to survive the annual hunt without police or park staff blocking off the access points and there are still deer there.
For some reason until it became a native only hunt this kind of thing hasn’t been a problem. Local hunters have been calling for a hunt in Shorthills for years. Could it be jealousy or could it be that the MNR suggested they are “allowing” this hunt making it a racial issue.
I ask the native spokesperson if the MNR could legally stop them and the answer was “No, this is an exercise under our treaty rights”. MNR and Ontario Parks can’t stop the hunt or give permission, only assist to ensure it remains as safe a hunt as possible. This is done by ensuring that this group of native hunters goes uninterrupted while they conduct their harvest.
When asked if they would welcome non-native hunters to join them if it was made legal Williams explained that they consider hunting very dangerous. They hunt as a group and they know everyone who is present and where each other are.
It’s like a recreation of the hunt when they were the only nation present. Having strangers hunting around them increases the danger factor. I had to agree with Paul as not knowing who is on a property can complicate things. I’ve has this issue with poachers myself but being a responsible hunter means identifying your targets species, sex and ensuring the backdrop is clear before setting a finger on a trigger or pulling a bow string.
The Shorthills Park is surrounded by farmland.
Many farmers have been complaining about the deer population for years. Delivering that locally grown vegetable to the people eating kinder is difficult when it is being eaten by the park residents. With no predators, plenty of shelter, a smorgasbord surrounding the deer’s home and a lack of hunting have provided the perfect storm for the first 6 feet of parkland from the ground up. The deer show little caution and hardly act like a prey animals at all.
Many are condemning any human interference at all but you don’t have to look far to see this interference doesn’t end at the park boundary. Some say we should let nature take its course but there is nothing natural about this situation at all.
I suppose if we stop building homes, factories and stores and take to the hills to live and die like the wild animals, maybe the wolves and cougars will help balance our population as well. For those of us that don’t see this as a likely way to balance the environment we’ll just have to settle for a freezer full of bounty. When hunting you pay the same price for tenderloin as you do for stewing meat.
Imbalances in nature don’t normally swing in our favour so hunters don’t look of gift horse in the mouth. They do however look it in the eye and know it hasn’t lived a life of confinement or been pumped full of hormones or antibiotics.
For the Haudenosaunee hunters the lack of flight demonstrated by the deer is not a problem. They are not there for the challenge of the hunt. They are there to hunt as a group, collect deer meat for their ceremonies and exercise their treaty rights.
It’s not as big of a deal as some are making it out to be. The media has definitely shone a spotlight on it and the lack of notice from MNR created a kneejerk reaction. From wolf calls to air horns, protesters blocking traffic and blogs condemning the hunt with a hateful vengeance this circus is ready for another weekend.
Local ARA blogger Daniel K Wilson suggests he’s willing to break the law to save his friends.
“If they want food they can go to a grocery store like everyone else” says Daniel. Niagara Action for Animals blogged that “killing animals for sport, tradition, or food is unnecessary, inhumane and unjustified”. “We strongly believe that morality, not tradition, should be the standard for our actions as moral human beings.” Others wrote that they searched for the native’s tree stands and called them names such as murderers and savages.
At the end of this weekend’s hunt less than 1% of this areas deer population will have been harvested. It will take years of hunting to bring a healthy balance so that the crooked stem aster might have a place to set a foothold.
If we would just allow any hunt to happen here annually, healthy deer populations will still exist in this park might and it may enjoy the comeback that Navy Island is making. There are many other species depending on a successful hunt.
The wolves and cougars aren’t doing it anymore; Ontario Parks won’t allow the rest of Niagara’s hunters to do it so why not allow the native hunters to take advantage of their treaty rights for the benefit of both their people and a struggling ecosystem?