WHO'S TAKING CARE OF POLICY?
MNR has some of the best scientific minds when it comes to fish and wildlife management that you will find anywhere.We have seen collapsed fisheries brought back to trophy status, and we have had high quality, sustainable hunting opportunities for moose, bear, deer and other species for many years.Yet NOTO and others continue to identify MNR decisions that seem to fly in the face of any kind of scientific management.
Unfortunately, we seem to be facing the same dilemma Alice faced when she asked for directions from the Cheshire Cat. When Alice asked “Please tell me which way I ought to go from here”, the Cheshire Cat replied “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Science does an excellent job of telling us how to get “there”. Unfortunately, it cannot tell us where “there” is.
Setting management objectives is not the realm of science; it is the stuff of policy and politics. Unfortunately,we seem to be sorely lacking in policy direction on many areas of MNR that affect nature and outdoor tourism. In the absence of a clear policy direction, resource managers will be forced to assume one, and the one they assume will likely be based on their personal knowledge, experience and biases.
“Ask almost any biologist in MNR what their management objective is, and they’ll instantly reply “sustainability of the resource”. What does sustainability mean? Is there more than one kind of sustainability – biological sustainability, social sustainability, economic sustainability?”
Is a sustainable fishery one that lets you catch fish for the table or one that produces trophies? Is the management objective recreational opportunity for local residents or creating economic benefit for communities through tourism development?
I have occasionally had the opportunity to pose some of these questions to experienced and knowledgeable biologists.What answer do I get? One recently told me “You’re asking the wrong person. When you figure out what management outcome you want, come back and ask me. I’m sure I can get you there.”
Is anybody asking the policy questions? The spring bear hunt debate recently resurfaced with the introduction of a private member’s bill. What is our management objective for black bears in Ontario? By most accounts, we have a black bear population of 150,000 or so, and it is stable or growing. Is this the appropriate target population, or should it be different.Wildlife managers in Manitoba have used the term “social carrying capacity” to refer to a management target that maintains healthy bear populations while minimizing adverse encounters between people and bears.
In the absence of clear policy direction, individual MNR management decisions often seem to be based on the assumption that the primary management objective for fish and wildlife management across Ontario is to sustain the maximum number of opportunities for Ontario residents, however mediocre those opportunities may be.The economic benefits of tourism to local communities seem not to be considered. Interestingly, neither does the possibility of more limited, but higher quality recreational opportunities for Ontario residents.
We are wasting one of our most valuable resources – the skilled and dedicated resource managers we have within MNR. We need to give them the direction they need to do the jobs they do so well, and we need to stop asking them, by default, to do the job of policy maker. It is time for the real policy makers to step up to the plate and engage with the concerned stakeholders like NOTO, local communities and others on these important questions.We have the natural resources and we have the scientific knowledge, lets get on with developing the policy framework that will truly make Ontario the world class outdoor tourism and recreation destination it is capable of being.
This article was taken from page 5 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Winter 2005 Issue