Ranchers vs. elk in western Alberta

Municipal resolution calls for more hunting tags and a loosening of rules

EDMONTON — Ranchers and farmers in western Alberta say they are losing money because too many hungry elk are using their fields as a free all-you-can-eat buffet.

Growing herds are munching, trampling and pooping on grain and hay crops from the Peace region south to the United States border.

Fed up with the voracious ungulates, two municipalities want the provincial government to make it easier to hunt elk to reduce their numbers.

“The government hasn’t come up with any real solutions to the problem,” said Dale Gervais, reeve of the Municipal District of Greenview. “Landowners are getting really tired of feeding elk.”

Alberta’s Agriculture Financial Services Corp. estimates crop damage from wildlife in the Peace region alone was almost $7 million in 2011 and 2012.

Gervais said the problem is getting worse because there aren’t enough sure-shot hunters. Statistics show the hunting success rate is less than 20 per cent.

To put pressure on the government, municipalities have drafted resolutions to be voted on this week by delegates attending the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties convention in Edmonton.

The resolution from the MD of Greenview calls for the province to offer more hunting tags in areas where elk are a problem.

Mountain View County in west-central Alberta has put forward another resolution that would make it easier for landowners to hunt elk on their own property.

“Non-migrating herds of elk are becoming established in Alberta’s agricultural areas. These local populations are destroying both standing and stockpiled forages intended for use as cattle feed,” reads the county’s resolution.

“The damage is compounded by the fact that the elk trample and defecate on unconsumed forage rendering it unpalatable.”

Alberta Environment estimates there are about 35,000 elk in the province and says the number is increasing. The animals are moving into agricultural areas in search of food and to get away from predators.

Duncan MacDonnell, a department spokesman, said some changes to hunting policies are being considered and could be rolled out later this year.

The government will consult with local groups before taking action, he said.

“It is a valid concern. We are looking at a more focused hunting effort in these problem areas.”

Elk are already a headache for the government in southeastern Alberta, where a burgeoning herd of more than 6,000 animals near Canadian Forces Base Suffield has damaged fields and angered ranchers for years.

The province is trying to reduce the herd to a manageable size by ramping up hunting.