After an hour at the government agent’s office my sarcasm was starting to blister the wallpaper.
Already, six people had walked out in disgust while the nice woman behind the desk checked and rechecked the stack of papers, pausing every ten minutes to phone God in Victoria for advice.
As morning stretched into noon, I feared the hammer would fall and she’d walk away for lunch and I’d have to start again, but she was good-hearted and soldiered on.
Was I registering for citizenship?
Performing a complex corporate registration?
Applying for a passport?
No, I was buying my very expensive hunting licence.
There are now less than half the hunters there were 25 years ago. After my experience at the government agent’s I could understand why. No wonder Alberta declared a Hunting Day last month.
Hunting and fishing could and should remain a necessary part of our ecosystem and culture, especially now that we’ve throttled the predator cycle, broken the natural world into development units, and alienated ourselves from wilderness.
And real meat, real fish, taste real, unlike the junk that comes out of the fish and factory farms.
Unfortunately, neither hunters nor bureaucrats like to have their behaviour examined. Some hunters consider it their sacred right to blast rabbits with howitzers.
Then there’s the guys with big rods and small float balls who insist it’s a sport to drag a fish through the water impaled on an iron hook in its jaw, only to release it to likely die in slow agony.
But if you suggest “catch and release” is an euphemism for torture, the outrage is palpable — something like when people first spoke up against slavery, civil rights, or ‘giving’ women the vote.
Catch-and-eat, I can understand (and relish), but the pleasures of torture never impressed me, or the bizarre notion of spending tens of thousands of dollars to murder a magnificent, prize animal from a long distance with a high-powered rifle, then only taking the horns or hide and the legal minimum of meat — leaving the rest to rot. Imagine, some people are proud of such behaviour.
Fishermen and hunters, these days, like to portray themselves as avid naturalists supporting the economy and keeping the ecological balance. They are.
Yet you might have a different opinion after visiting a good fishing hole littered with the gunk left behind by ‘naturalists’ who can’t be bothered to take back their tangled lines or bait containers.
New studies of the eastern forest floor show it’s being massively corrupted by the introduction of earthworms left behind by dumb fishermen.
Still, hunting can be a magical theatre of life, death included.
The hunt has been with us since prehistory.
You are never so alive as when that grayling is just a cast away or the big buck crests the mountain.
There are values to be learned in the hunt you will never find at school.
And if you are going to eat meat, then you should know the awful beauty of hunting, killing, and butchering the carcass.
Human development has impacted our entire environment.
It has also broken up most food chains and created spiraling populations of coyotes, raccoons, and especially deer.
Deer are altering ecosystems across North America.
But the urban ecologists of the subdivisions practise a brown-eyed ecology, and operate on the principal that cuteness must be good.
Feeding deer is like pouring oil into a creek.
Not hunting them is a crime against the environment, dooming endangered plant species to extinction.
There’s a terrific book, Heart and Blood, by Richard Nelson, examining the deer nightmare in North America.
I recently attended a seminar where the biologists predicted the eventual demise of the fabled cedar forests of Haida Gwaii. It’s simple. The surging deer population is devouring the cedar seedlings.
But our urban media and residents live in fear of guns.
They have good reason.
A man carrying a gun down Commercial Drive in Vancouver is a scary sight. Yet a man carrying a gun on the Rat River is part of the ecosystem.
Government legislators don’t understand this difference, so they punish criminals, psychotics, hunters and farmers equally, although the hunters and farmers are often the last stand against bio-collapse caused by the destruction of the food chain.
I sometimes wonder how many ranchers and hunters our gun control legislation has driven to suicide.
What hunters, guides, or hardscrabble farmers and hardluck ranchers are going to seek treatment for depression if that very treatment, according to the legislation, could mean the confiscation of the guns that protect their livelihoods and traditional ways of life?
At the same time, well-intentioned but short-sighted bureaucrats, who I’m sure love the environment as much as the rest of us, increase the bureaucracy in direct ratio to the elimination of fish and game.
Why ban fishing on a struggling river when they can regulate the square inch of fish caught and hire more officials to calculate it, and then throw a conservation surcharge on your fishing license to punish you for their shortsighted policies?
Never mind that while the bureaucrats are counting, the fish are disappearing.
One of the common underground secrets of hunting is that the regulations are increasing the destruction of trophy game.
The regulations have grown so complex, so impossible, some hunters now just shoot any likely animal, and when they walk up and discover it’s illegal, they quickly walk away – to shoot another animal.
No hunter will admit to this, although, out of range of a public official, many will tell you it’s happening on an epic scale.
What we need is a complete rebuilding of our environmental agencies into real institutions that will actually benefit the fish in the creek, the moose in the swamp, the deer on the knoll, and the goose flying away.
Meanwhile, our departments of Fish Kills and Game Extinction are achieving their purpose while those of us who love wilderness and wildlife can only watch its government-approved destruction in bafflement.
Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.