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Sask. hunting license sales decline for first time in 12 years


After years of consecutive growth, Saskatchewan saw a decrease in the number of residential hunters for the first time in over a decade.

According to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF), there was a roughly 15 per cent reduction in the number of hunting licenses purchased this past fall.

Executive director Darrell Crabbe said the reduction is largely driven by fewer people seeking "over the counter" licenses as opposed to the draw system licenses for bigger game tags.

"We had had a steady increase every year in resident hunting numbers across the board, that was, of course until 2022,"/ Crabbe said.

A survey distributed by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation has yielded "a huge number" of responses, with one main reason attributed to the lack of hunting activity.

The province's new trespassing legislation -- The Trespass to Property Amendment Act, 2019, and The Trespass to Property Consequential Amendments Act, 2019 -- require permission from landowners to access land for recreational use.

The legislation came into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, making this the first proper hunting season it was implemented, and Crabbe says many are opting to see how the new legislation works before buying a license.

"There is a great deal of difficulty trying to ascertain when you're hunting a specific area. Who owns the land? And secondly, how do you contact them and get that much-needed permission to pursue that activity?" Crabbe said.

Kevin Kopp at North Pro Sports in Saskatoon says sales have remained steady thanks to gun enthusiasts, but there's no doubt hunting traditions are changing in Saskatchewan.

"If you have a relationship and connections with landowners, you're OK. If you do not, it's a work in progress for you," Kopp said.

Kopp said a number of his customers are prepared hunters who spend hours researching, scouting and planning their hunting trips. Hunters fitting that description typically have permission to hunt, but the "over the counter" hunters who typically would have gone to a familiar area unannounced are choosing to stay home this winter.

"The old tradition of just going out on a Saturday morning is a lot different than it was years ago," Kopp said.

Crabbe said the SWF is approaching landowner groups and other stakeholders to determine a better system where landowners and hunters are more easily able to connect.

While many hunters are taking a year off to wait and see, the cost of fuel and other goods needed for hunting, as well as the increased prevalence of chronic wasting disease is also driving more people away.

"A number of areas in Saskatchewan, (chronic wasting disease) is pushing at 80 per cent rates, which make it very difficult to be able to justify going in harvesting an animal and of those areas," Crabbe said.

Hunters are left with no choice if a chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease found in some species of deer, elk and moose, test comes back positive. Although there are no known cases of CWD affecting any humans, the only advice is to throw the meat away.

As all these issues affect hunting activity in the province, Crabbe is growing concerned that people turning away from the sport isn't just a one-off, but part of a larger trend.

"That's always in the back of your mind. And, that would be the thought that's driving us, and it's right driving us right now," he said.

"A lot of individuals just stepped back for one year and are waiting to see what might develop further down the road."

His concern is not only with the sport and the role it plays in managing wildlife populations, but the overall economy as well.

Hunting, trapping and fishing contribute anywhere from $650 million to $700 million to the provincial economy every year, and it's one of the few activities that moves money from urban centres to rural areas.

"You look at every other type of activity that generates that type of financial benefit, it's almost all moving from rural areas into the larger centers," he said.

Thirty per cent of all licensed hunting, angling and trapping license sales contribute to the wildlife development fund, which not only helps fund the provincial hatchery but also funds research and educational ventures.

Crabbe worries if this one-year reduction becomes part of a longer trend, it could affect Saskatchewan's environment overall.

"We certainly don't want to see any drop in the funding available there because those dollars are more needed now than they ever have been," Crabbe said.

As both Crabbe and Kopp see a transition in hunting behaviours, both have an eye on the future to see what's in store moving forward.

"There's pros and cons to all of these new laws, and this definitely one con would be maybe it decreases hunting numbers," Kopp said. Top Stories

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