We all enjoy wildlife in their natural habitat. But when they turn to agricultural crops, livestock or poultry for their food, then farmers ask, “What can I do?”
The simple answer is, it depends on the species of wildlife causing the trouble.
Section 31 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act addresses “protection of property” from wildlife. Under section 31, anyone who believes that wildlife is damaging or is about to damage their property, may, on their own land, harass or kill the offending wildlife. These provisions apply to all property owners, not just farmers. However, you cannot shoot wildlife simply because it is on your farm. The threat to property must be happening or about to happen. A valid hunting licence is not required to protect one’s property with a firearm, but you must have a firearm licence. Alternately you can use an agent to act on your behalf.
Section 31 does not include wildlife on Ontario’s endangered species list plus moose, caribou, elk or white-tailed deer. The prohibitions against harassing, capturing or killing an endangered species need no explanation. Moose, caribou, and white-tailed deer are “big game” species with regulated hunting seasons; the likely reason for their exclusion. Elk were reintroduced at four locations between 1998 and 2001. A hunting season for elk began in North Hastings in 2011.
In 2016, the Algonquin wolf (formerly Eastern wolf) was added to the Species at Risk in Ontario list as a “threatened species”, automatically protecting it from being harassed, captured or killed. Its habitat is also protected. These restrictions only apply to specific areas of the province; Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, Kawartha Highlands and Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands and to the townships surrounding them, limiting what farmers in these areas can do to protect their livestock and poultry from predation by either Algonquin wolves or coyotes because MNRF believes it is difficult to distinguish between Algonquin wolves and coyotes.
Despite the ban on hunting and trapping Algonquin wolves and coyotes, there is a “protection of property” exemption under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act for an “imminent threat” to livestock or poultry. Imminent threat is seen as an Algonquin wolf or coyote attacking or stalking your livestock or poultry. Simply being on your farm is not an imminent threat.
Northern Ontario has hunting restrictions (i.e. a closed season and a 2 per hunter limit) for wolves and coyotes. Check with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to determine where these restrictions apply. Nevertheless, livestock farmers across Northern Ontario can shoot wolves and coyotes in protection of property. There are no closed seasons or “bag limits” for coyotes across Southern Ontario.
Farmers suffering deer damage to crops or orchards can apply to their MNRF District Office for an Agricultural Deer Removal Authorization, which enables farmers to harass or kill deer outside of the normal hunting season. Farmers suffering elk damage to agricultural property can apply to their local MNRF District Office for an Authorization for Protecting Agricultural Property from Elk, which enables farmers to harass or kill nuisance elk damaging or about to damage agricultural property, including standing crops, stored feed and farm fences. For both authorizations, you must possess a valid FBR number, and own or rent the farm(s) where deer or elk removal will occur. You can use an agent to act on your behalf.
For all other wildlife, including wild turkeys or beaver, farmers can take reasonable actions to protect their property, including crops, livestock, poultry or honey bees, from predation. If a bear is shot in protection of property, you must notify MNRF. Killing certain specially protected raptors (e.g. hawks, falcons) or fur-bearing mammals in protection of property must be reported to MNRF too.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act authorizes you to use an agent to act on your behalf. Licenced hunters (H1 Outdoors Card), licenced trappers, members of your immediate family, person’s whose business is nuisance wildlife removal, municipal employees responsible for wildlife control or Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) employees can also serve as your agent. If you’re unable to find an agent from these groups, the Act identifies two additional types of agents;
1: a named individual agent – tied to a specific property. Usually a 30-day appointment and must be able to be licensed as a hunter. In the case of bears, where the response time is critical, this authorization can be done over the phone.
2: a term agent – authorized to deal with all the nuisance wildlife (bears, raccoons, etc.) in a defined area, for example a specific property, concession or township.
Speak with your MNRF District Office for further information on either of these options.
If your wildlife problem is Canada geese, you need to contact the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). Although Canada geese and other migratory birds are protected under federal migratory bird legislation, CWS does issue permits to farmers to use acceptable deterrents to protect their crops. Contact the CWS Permits Officer at 905-336-4464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An obvious response is to wildlife damage is to allow hunting during the open season(s). Encourage your neighbours to allow hunting during open season(s) on their property too. In some instances, trapping is a viable alternative. For the name of a licensed trapper, contact either your MNRF District office or the Ontario Fur Managers Federation in Sault Ste Marie; 705-254-3338 or email@example.com.
When a firearm is used in the protection of property you must be licenced to possess or possess and acquire firearms. Firearms and ammunition must be stored in accordance with the law. However, in areas where it is legal to discharge a firearm, an unloaded and unlocked shotgun or rifle can be temporarily kept close at hand when needed for predator control. The ammunition must be kept separately from the firearm or locked away.
The Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program compensates farmers for wildlife damage to livestock, poultry or honey bees killed or injured by predators. To be eligible, farmers must provide a Premises ID, a current Farm Business Registration (FBR) number, or approved documentation issued by OMAFRA for new/retired farmers, a religious exemption or a confirmation letter from the Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario. In the case of bee damage, a Beekeeper ID under the Bees Act is required.
It is our understanding that a municipal “no discharge of firearms by-law” does not apply to using a firearm to protect one’s property.
For further information on defence of property from nuisance wildlife, you can contact your local MNRF District Office. Alternately, you can contact your local OFA Member Service Representative, or OFA’s Guelph office; 519-821-8883 or 1-800-668-3276.