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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Sporting Choice

A Sporting Choice

A few days ago I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article in the National Post. The federal government had decided against funding a hockey arena in Quebec. I am in full agreement with this decision. My biased comment concerning this posting stated that there are only three sports worth government funding. These three sports are worth funding because only these three and the research which happens because of them, benefits society as a whole. I then asked my Facebook friends if they could name them. Of course most guesses or suggestions were tongue-in-cheek; dwarf tossing, ferret legging, and of all things, curling. Curling! What does curling-funded research lead to? Better brooms?

All kidding aside, here are my three choices for the only sports and the public funding of, that lead to bettering our society: Hunting, fishing and motor sports.

Now before I cause an uproar and you all write to me in disagreement, I'll outline a few reasons in support of my choices.

First motor sport, a sport I have little interest in although many of my friends and family do.

But motor sports, whether GP, NASCAR, F1 or off-road rallying, lead to important research contributing to better passenger vehicles. More fuel efficient engines. Development of stronger and more durable construction materials. But most importantly, safety features in most modern passenger cars have been greatly improved through research and development due to the sport of racing.

Now I’m not recommending the government fund Grand Prix or Formula 1, in-fact, by bailing out the motor industry over recent years, our tax dollars have already contributed too much to the motor industry. But for the sake of safety, the protection of the environment through better emission standards, and lowering of fuel consumption, all of society reaps the benefits.

Hunting and fishing though, are two sports that the government should not only fund, but encourage the public’s participation in.

Now before anyone tries to argue that hunting and fishing are not sports, let’s define the word “sport.”

Noun - An active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition.

Both activities are most certainly physically exerting. And both can be very competitive. But one of the beauties of hunting and fishing is that neither need be competitive and can be enjoyed even more when the competition is eliminated, or better yet, against one’s self.

So why should the government fund hunting and fishing with our tax dollars? Even those who neither fish nor hunt benefit in profound ways through the research and accomplishments of the fishing and hunting communities.

No other group can claim to have increased awareness, or safeguarded the natural resources of our lands, protected more areas of environmental significance from adverse development and ensured that our watersheds and vast tracts of forest and prairie remain natural, pristine and functioning as nature intended. Wildlife, migratory and not, thrive in these areas. The flora that carpets the forest floor or crowd the wetlands, clean and purify the air we breath and the water we drink; essentials to life.

Groups dedicated to the promotion and participation in hunting and fishing are at the forefront in the fight against invasive species. The sea lamprey, round goby and zebra muscle; kudzu, dog-strangling vine and giant hogweed, to name but a few. Hunting and fishing clubs are educating the public about these creatures and plants, and about the damage they cause. These groups are at the front-line, on the ground and water so to speak, actually making an effort to eradicate their presence.

Our right to access Crown Land has always been an issue throughout Canada. Mining, lumber and petroleum companies have sought to have these rights limited and in some areas eliminated. Hunting and fishing groups, from local clubs to national organizations, tackle manufacturers and retailers, private lodges and camps, have worked hard and spent millions to ensure we will always have access to these lands and the waters that flow through them. This ensures that even those that don’t hunt or fish will be able to enjoy our great outdoors. Whether you canoe, hike, bird-watch or even collect rocks and minerals, groups dedicated to the preservation of our hunting and fishing traditions ensure your access to areas you also can enjoy.

Unfortunately our tax dollars can only go so far. There is of course a limit to how much funding the government can and chooses to supply. And of course, we as individuals might not have the finances of our own to support the many endeavors and groups acting to protect these resources. But there are other ways that we can contribute to these important causes.

Many groups and organizations are always looking for new members and volunteers. A membership will cost you a few dollars each year but probably a monthly magazine and discounts at a number participating retailers will be included in the fee. This easily makes up for the yearly dues.

Smaller, locally dedicated groups are even more in need of our attention. These groups are always looking for volunteers. Anyone with a want to become involved with the community, meet new friends and contribute to a conservation effort will be welcome! Even skills far removed from the outdoors are needed; every community rooted group needs a book keeper and a minutes taker.

But if you’re more a hands-on type there are many things to do. Stream reclamation, tree planting, even garbage pick-up to name a few. All activities are an important part in the fight to better our natural environment and promote the sports of hunting and fishing.

If I’ve managed to peek anyone’s interest, and you’re itching to get involved, or simply want more info, here are a few groups I believe are making great contributions to the sporting traditions of hunting and fishing. Better yet, these groups bring environmental awareness to the forefront. And some, through social outreach, make life better for the less fortunate in society.

Ducks Unlimited Canada has been helping to preserve wetlands since 1938. Since then they have helped to preserve 12.5 million acres of wetlands. Robert Bateman is a long time supporter of DU. Quite often you will see his prints up for auction in your local grocery store. If a limited audition print is out of your price range, they have many other products for sale which raise funds for their cause. At the moment I’m wearing a pair of their socks!

Worldwide DU has over 700,000 members so not very grass-roots, but worth a look at if you’re not familiar with them.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is a wonderful organization that contributes greatly to the enhancement of our woodlands. Especially those areas bordering our important farmlands. Their efforts have educated both the public and farm owners to the benefits of the preservation of standing hardwoods.

The wild turkey was virtually extinct in Ontario until twenty-five years ago. They now number well over a hundred-thousand. Not since the dawn of logging in the province have turkey numbers been so high.

The NWTF also contributes to the community through their outreach programs. Each year thousands of farm raised turkeys are bought and donated to the less fortunate. Through the efforts of the NWTF special dates and locations for disabled hunters have also been established.

Their dedication to the sport of turkey hunting not only helps their quarry and the folks that pursue them, but also the communities their members live in.

Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC) is another grass roots group that is dedicated to the betterment of our environment. Founded in 1972, out of a growing response to the challenges that were threatening our freshwater and cold-water fisheries at the time, TUC has since dedicated itself to educating the public about these threats. Their main interest lies in hands-on work to preserve of our watersheds and the species that depend on them. These small areas are an indication of the health of our entire environment. In a sense, our streams and rivers are the cannery in the coal mine, an indicator of the environmental health of our entire planet.

TUC is dedicated to the health of the watersheds that run through our cities, our farmlands and the forests that border the neighbourhoods we live in. Places we walk through, take our children, run our dogs and find peace. The preservation of these places and the importance they play in life should be of a concern to all of us, not only those that fish and hunt them.

If you live in Ontario, and decide to join and support only one group, my recommendation is the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). Since 1928 the OFAH has been an advocate for natural resources and the rights and privileges of Ontario’s residents to hunt and fish. The OFAH is the leader in outdoor education programs, natural resource awareness and species reintroduction.

The wild turkey is only one success story that the OFAH can take responsibility for. This coming September marks the first open season for elk in Ontario. Before logging, rapid settlement and land being converted to crop and livestock production in the mid 1800’s, elk were common in southern and central Ontario. By 1900 only a few small herds existed in the Kenora area. Through significant financial and volunteer contributions by the OFAH, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has successfully created a self sustaining elk herd in and around the Bancroft-North Hastings area.

The OFAH is also a leader in the promotion of outdoor pursuits. For sixteen years now, the Ontario Family Fishing Weekend encourages families from all walks of life to get out and enjoy a recreational sport that promotes a healthy lifestyle and encourages inter generation participation. And for fifteen years the Women’s Outdoor Weekend has given women the chance to meet other women with similar interests, sharing knowledge and experiences, dispelling the image that hunting and fishing is a man’s world.

Hunting and fishing are important recreational sports, their impact upon our society is far reaching. Financial support by all levels of government is imperative. Hunting and fishing are traditional activities that reflect the Canadian character. Unfortunately the funding that is coming is inadequate. Right now support by individuals and private groups are the most realistic force behind increased hunting and fishing possibilities and the benefits they create for Canadian society as a whole.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


We've now been back from Sandy Lake for just over a month. Aimee and I have commented to each other since, that the four months we spent there seemed an eternity, and for all the wrong reasons. The Sandy Lake part of our adventure had been less adventurous and more tedious. Navigation had been of personalities not back roads. In fact, we travelled less than two or three kilometers from our home while being there. Each new place we visit, each community we spend time in, have been and will be places of learning, or in the least, experience.
In Sandy Lake though, few lessons were learned, mostly it was harsh realities realized.

Learning of those harsh realities seemed to have become the purpose for our visit there. But towhat purpose?

Let's visit one of those harsh realities. Sometimes prejudicial biases are based in truth. Sometimes the truth is worse than the prejudice. And sometimes that actual truth is even ignored by those that preach those prejudices.

Many people in communities in the remote north hold very differing ethical attitudes to those of us from the densely populated areas of this country. It is one of those differing attitudes that has led us to what we believe has been our purpose being there.

Aimee's job actually forced her to confront these realities in a way I did not have to. But the reality that gave us our purpose is a reality that permeates both our lives. On December the ninth Aimee worked later than I. When she arrived home that evening she did not arrive empty handed. Aimee came home with a dog. Had Aimee not come home with that little dog, that little dog would now be dead.
In most communities in the far north there are too many dogs. Most breed uncontrolled, increasing the population. Some residents fly new ones up there only to be set free to run wild when the novelty stales. So some of them starve to death. Some freeze to death. Some get eaten by the wolves, or by the other dogs they run wild with. And when those harsh realities of that unforgiving landscape fail to control the canine population the locals start shooting them.

In some northern communities there is a bounty on dogs. There is no licencing though. No leash laws. There isn't even much of a move to neuter or spay the existing population. There is simply a complete disrespect and ill regard for dogs.

We named the little dog "Alfie". She came into our home emaciated and stinking of garbage, inside and out. She was timid, frost-bitten and starved. She ate nonstop for three days. And the most amazing thing was that Lyndy seemed to understand her plight as much as we did. She let Alfie eat her food, drink her water and sleep beside us in our bed as she does. Lyndy and Alfie have become the best of friends.
Alfie also became best friends with "White Dog". The only thing we miss from Sandy Lake is"White Dog". Living beneath our house, finding a small source of heat from the warmed pipes there, "White Dog" was one of the other stray dogs on the reserve. We started feeding her after finding she chose to stay within our compound. It was difficult for me to walk in the bush, whether with Lyndy or on my own, without the company of "White Dog". She would even follow us
onto the lake for an afternoon of ice fishing.

Leaving Sandy Lake was not difficult. Leaving "White Dog" was. But we had saved one little dog from a miserable life with an inevitable, and quite possibly brutal end to it.

Lyndy is a traveller just as Aimee and I are. From the day we got her she came with us everywhere. By the time we had reached Sandy Lake, Lyndy had traveled with us over many miles. She's been in cars, over frozen lakes in snow machines, thousands of miles by rail and on several planes. But Alfie had barely travelled a mile from where Aimee had snatched her up, from behind the store, to our house.
All four of us flew out of Sandy Lake the evening of Valentine's Day. We arrived in Thunder Bay five hours and three planes later. And that night Alfie not only flew in a plane, but walked on pavement, on carpet and climbed stairs for the first time!

Alfie now lives in Whitby, with Lyndy, and Aimee and I of course. Also Lucy the Shih-poo. And cats! She still doesn't understand cats! Do you play with them? Do you chase them? You can't simply leave them alone. And if you chase them and catch them, what do you do? Georgie, the brown tabby says if you catch a cat, you scratch its tummy. Alfie and Lyndy don't agree.

With almost a half-acre of fenced yard, uncountable squirrels, and gardens to dig in, Alfie has a great life now. Unfortunately most reservation dogs don't. Life for a dog on a remote First Nations reserve in northern Canada is inhumane and cheep for most, precarious at best, and quite often short-lived.
Dogs on Native reserves are frequently disposed of in the most heinous of ways. Even when a bounty is not in effect. Throughout the north, thousands of husky-crosses, amongst other breeds, are slaughtered yearly. Some are strays, some even discarded family pets. But all are "Res Dogs". If you ever find the time or resources to help one of these beautiful creatures do so. Not all need to exist like "White Dog", some can live like Alfie.