This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

Today we hear a first-hand account of a concerning hunting episode on October 24 in Smelt Bay, Cortes Island.   We’ll hear from Conservation Officer Brad Adams, a local authority on the laws around hunting.  And then we’ll take a deeper dive with Sabina Leader Mense into the some ecological considerations of hunting around Cortes. 

Photo credit: Smelt Bay by Djun Kim via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Cortes Currents: Max Thaysen interviews Kim Lotnik, Conservation Officer Brad Adams and local biologist Sabina Leader-Mense about the Cortes goose hunt. (Much more in podcast)

Cortes Currents learned of the reports on a local facebook page, We Heart Cortes Island, that described a scary situation. 

Walking her dog

Kim Lotnick tells us the story. 

Kim was walking on the beach with her dog.  The weather was stormy and the seas were rough.  She saw someone canoeing and thought that it was wierd that someone would be out on the water. 

Through her large headphones, she heard a loud blast like a gunshot.  She turned to look and saw a flock of birds flying away from the canoe, and something flopping in the water that looked like a seal.

She would later learn that another witness to the scene saw that it was a goose.

Kim began filming.  And the person in the canoe was watching her as something was pulled into the boat. 

Kim describes feeling terrified and many terrible thoughts flashed through her mind about what revenge the hunter might take on her for filming his actions. 

The canoe followed her as she hurried to her vehicle. 

She says the hunter was probably just heading in the same direction, and might have spoken to her, to discuss the situation.  But she was not going to stick around to find out.  At the time, she felt like she was being chased. 

Is this legal?

She called 911, and was transferred to the Quadra RCMP.  They told her that seal hunting was out of their jurisdiction, and suggested she call the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 

Kim says she understands that illegal hunting would be out of RCMP jurisdiction, but would expect them to express more interest in shots fired at Smelt Bay. 

Safely at home, Kim sought support from friends and from the Cortes Island facebook group, We Heart Cortes Island.  Another person replied to her post about the situation, saying that another witness had seen that it was a goose that was shot.  And another respondent informed the group that it was goose season and if properly licenced, the hunt was probably legal. 

Kim says that she did feel a little better knowing that the hunt may have been legal, but it still made her feel, “totally uncomfortable”.

Open hunting season on geese

To get some clarity on the laws around hunting, we contacted the Conservation Officer for the North Island Region, Brad Adams

Officer Adams informs us that in Management Area 1, our area, there is an open hunting season that includes Canada geese, ducks, coots, snipes, snow geese, ross geese, “there’s quite an assortment”, he says.  The season is October 3rd to January 22nd. 

Officer Adams says that regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 100 meters of a building.  There are also some regulations about the legal proximity to roads (one has to be outside the road allowance, 15 m from the centre line and not shooting across the road). and some municipalities or regional districts have additional bylaws establishing no-shooting areas. 

No SRD regulations

Cortes Currents contacted Aniko Nelson from the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) to ask about any hunting bylaws.  The response we received reads:

“Please be advised that the Strathcona Regional District does not have any regulation in effect governing the discharge of firearms or hunting over Crown or private lands jurisdiction…”

Officer Adams tells us that bylaw infractions and serious safety violations would likely involve RCMP as well as the Conservation Officer Service.  And ultimately, regardless of the law, hunters are responsible for where their shots land. 

Legal vs ethical

Officer Adams highlights the distinction “there’s some things that are illegal, yes, but there’s other things that are unethical.”

Officer Adams cautions hunters who would hunt in areas that are frequented by humans – “do you really want to cause conflict…?”  Adding, “everybody’s ethics are always different”.

In response to hearing a bit of Kims story, Officer Adams says if it was not in a restricted area, was out of the roadway, was on the ocean and was far enough from houses – then “it could be a lawful hunt”.

Shotguns and canoes

We asked Officer Adams to describe the dangerous range of shotguns used in waterfowl hunts.  He says the effective range is 40-50 yards, but that shots could travel farther in some wind conditions.  “Those are where the considerations need to be taken by the hunter”, he says.

We also asked Officer Adams the jurisdictional boundaries between the RCMP and Conservation Officer service. He said generally the Conservation Officers deal with unsafe hunting complaints, and RCMP will be engaged if the offence is deliberately dangerous or grossly negligent. 

Officer Adams clarified the legality of the canoe in this particular hunt. He said that hunting from any boat is legal – but not while while under way, under power.  Canoes can be travelling while hunting, if they are powered by muscle alone. 

And finally, we asked Officer Adams how much shooting direction can be relied upon to establish a safe hunt.  He said that hunters do need to be sure of their target and beyond and know their area. “That’s the safest, that’s the best place for them to be shooting.  Going outside of that, is going to cause safety concerns”, he said.  

Sabina Leader Mense diving in Cortes waters – Courtesy Friends of Cortes Island

Sabina Leader Mense

For a different perspective from which to consider this matter, Cortes Currents caught up biologist and ecologist, Sabina Leader Mense.  

Lately, Sabina has been coordinating a subtidal dive survey project, and for around 7 years she has led wildlife coexistence education program.  And for around 25  years, she has organized a team of volunteers to monitor the health of eelgrass around cortes in a Foreshore Monitoring program.  She also provides education around and evaluation of conservation projects various public and private landowners.

Two Varieties of Canada Geese

Sabina describes for us how there are actually two varieties of Canada Geese living in Coastal BC – resident and migratory. The migratory geese pass through in the spring and fall.  And the residents are here year-round. 

The resident geese are not native to the coast, Sabina asserts. They were introduced in the 70s purportedly for the purposes of wildlife viewing and hunting.  With plenty of urban, suburban and rural lawns created, and agricultural lands, the geese populations have “exploded” and become a nuissance.  

Eel grass by Ronald C. Phillips PhD. via Wikipedia (CC BY SA, 3.0 License)

An ecological menace

But beyond being a nuissance, Sabina says they are an ecological menace.  Resident geese in large numbers feed on eelgrass beds.  

Eel grass is a sea-grass that is common on the coast in shallow, sandy and muddy waters.  It is a richly biodiverse habitat – critical to many species, including salmon.  

Sabina describes observations in Manson’s Lagoon and Whaletown Bay wherein there was eelgrass, then there were geese feeding on eelgrass, and then there was no longer eel grass. 

Sabina says that there are efforts to reduce their numbers by addling eggs and relocating geese.  Addling is the process of shaking the egg to kill the fetus, without breaking the shell.  This tricks the goose into thinking she still has young to hatch and she won’t re-lay any eggs. 

Sabina also says that the geese nest on small islets all over the coast, having a big impact on this rare habitat which supports many species at risk.

Sabina says that the goose is good eating and hunting should be promoted to decrease their numbers.  The goose abundance offers us an opportunity to put food on the dinner table, re-learn our connection to our ecosystems and restore imbalances made by others.    

A final word and request from Kim:

Kim suggests that feeding oneself is fine, she would simply like to have some warning, and suggests there be a signal or a sign of hunts in progress. 

Links of Interest

And we close with a final word from Officer Adams:

Hunters and the rest of the public can always reach out with questions or concerns to the Conservation Officer Service – that’s what they’re there for. 

To report an incident of concern, or for more information, call the RAPP hotline (report all poachers and polluters): 1-877-952-RAPP (7277)

Many thanks to Kim Lotnick and Officer Adams and Sabina Leader Mense for sharing their stories this week. 

Many thanks to Theojt for the theme music this week.  It was made available under a creative commons 0 licence.

For more information about geese, see:

CKTZ’s Podcasts

Top photo credit: Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) by Joe Ravi via wikipedia (CC BY SA, 3.0 License)