Originally published by Outdoor Canada, April 20, 2017

Outdoor defenders

Why the planet’s wildlife is in trouble—but not in this country

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2016, the world’s collective population of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has dropped by 58 per cent since 1970. The situation is at its worst in Latin America, with an overall decline of 83 per cent, followed by low-income countries at 58 per cent and middle-income countries at 18. Bucking this trend are high-income countries such as Canada, which the WWF says have actually increased their overall biodiversity. But on the whole, the report paints a fairly dismal picture for wildlife around the planet, and it points the finger at fishing and hunting as contributing to the problem.

What the report doesn’t make clear, though, is that hitting the water or heading afield for recreation, as we do here, is a lot different from fishing and hunting in those regions of the world where the likes of war, drought, climate change and economic collapse have made it impossible for people to otherwise feed their families. That’s an important distinction—and the reason why our fish and game populations are fairing much better.

Canada is among those countries the WWF reports as showing a 10 per cent increase in wildlife numbers over the past 40 years. Given that the percentage of Canada’s anglers and hunters has remained relatively constant over the same period, factors other than fishing and hunting must have been to blame for some of our wildlife populations bottoming out back in the 1970s. You don’t need to dig deep to discover that unbridled pollution, rampant habitat destruction, prolific human encroachment and the introduction of numerous invasive species all played a part.

It’s not that challenges don’t remain. Regulators, scientists and politicians have only begun to turn the tide to ensure commercial fishing along Canada’s coastlines is carried out in a sustainable manner. And of course, there are still pockets of our population that turn to fishing and hunting as a means to make a living and feed their families. Indeed, these intensive, unregulated localized harvests of wildlife may be responsible for certain regional declines in fish and game.

On balance, though, we’ve learned our lessons about commercially overharvesting wildlife such as beavers, buffalo, pigeons and Atlantic cod, and we’re working hard to ensure such collapses are never repeated. In this effort to maintain sustainable wildlife populations, Canada’s anglers and hunters play a key role. We in the outdoor community know this, of course, but our efforts bear repeating—and sharing with those who don’t fish and hunt.

  • Through the measured removal of apex predators from the food chain, hunters help mitigate the usually extreme boom-and-bust cycles that typically occur in nature when predator populations grow beyond what can be sustained by available prey.
  • Our volunteer and fundraising endeavours have contributed significantly to habitat restoration, conservation and fish and game repopulation. Plus, our fishing and hunting licensing fees help fund wildlife management initiatives.
  • Our ethical approach to how we engage in our sport is making it increasingly difficult for those few bad apples who feel the need to engage in poaching. Remember, if you observe fishing or hunting violations in any province or territory, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
  • Anglers and hunters are playing an increasingly active and valuable role in scientific research associated with tagging, creel surveys and securing biological samples for laboratory studies.
  • We report on environmental problems such as fish kills, abnormal animal behaviours, oil spills and pollution, allowing for timely investigation and remediation to be carried out.
  • Through education and enforcement, the practices of catch-and-release and selective harvesting have become the norm.

In short, contrary to what many members of the public might believe, the collective efforts of anglers and hunters serve to rebuild, conserve and sustain Canada’s wildlife populations, and the latest WWF report proves just that. It’s up to all of us in the outdoors community to ensure our fellow Canadians know that.

Ottawa contributor Lawrence Gunther is North America’s only blind professional angler and the host of both Blue Fish Radio and TV’s Feel the Bite.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Gunther.