Archive for April 16th, 2010

Why we get stupid laws and regulations

April 16, 2010

On numerous occasions I have belaboured the point that we get laws on the books that really make no sense from a practical point of view and those laws have just ended up there because lawmakers need to look as though they are “doing something” to solve a perceived problem.

Not necessarily always a real problem, but something that the public or the government perceives to be a problem. Or even worse, a non-existent problem that is manufactured to serve someone’s personal agenda.

Case in point: The Nova Scotia government’s stated intention to place a bounty on coyotes in the province.

But first, some background:

Back in October 2009 a 19 year old girl – Taylor Mitchell, a folk singer from Toronto – was attacked and killed by coyotes while hiking in Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highland National Park.

That certainly put the spotlight on to the coyote population in the province and complaints came in that coyotes were getting much bolder around humans.

In January 2010, there was a complaint from a man who felt threatened by a pair of coyotes that approached aggressively.

All of this apparently has spooked the provincial government in to believing that they now need to do something to show that they have the situation under control. Their solution – at least their stated solution – is to bring in a bounty on coyotes in the province.

Five months after a young woman was mauled to death by coyotes on a Cape Breton trail, the Nova Scotia government is poised to offer trappers a bounty for the animals to ease fears they are becoming more aggressive.

John MacDonell, the province’s natural resources minister, said Wednesday he has to act because of three additional reports of close encounters with coyotes within the past week. A final decision is expected Friday.

“It’s better to be pro-active and assume that it would help a little rather than do nothing and worry about somebody possibly being hurt by these animals,” he said in an interview.

Which would be fine and dandy if there was any proof that a bounty system would solve the problem. A lot of people think it’s hokum.

But the head of the province’s Federation of Anglers and Hunters said a bounty would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, motivated by politics rather than science.

Tony Rodgers, the federation’s executive director, said MacDonell should think twice about the controversial move.

“It cannot be based on emotion,” Rodgers said. “This is part of the problem we’ve experienced in past years when politicians started making biological decisions. They haven’t got it right yet.”

He said killing more coyotes won’t make them more afraid of humans.

“No message will be sent back to the rest of the pack,” he said, adding the money for the bounty should instead be used to educate Nova Scotians on how to reduce confrontations with wild animals.

And:

….. Rodgers said it’s a mistake to think the province’s 8,000 coyotes are getting more aggressive.

He said the real problem is that one of the coyote’s main sources of food, the snowshoe hare, is at the bottom of a seven-year population cycle and hungry coyotes are simply looking for food.

As well, biologists within MacDonell’s own department have confirmed bounties are ineffective. A provincial bounty introduced in 1982 was removed four years later when it became clear it had no impact on coyote populations.

“It totally flies in the face of what his department has been saying for years,” said Rodgers.

R.A. Lautenschlager, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, said targeting individual animals that pose a threat to humans, rather than all coyotes, is a better approach.

“That’s one of the problems with bounties – there’s not necessarily any selection,” he said from his office in Sackville, N.B.

But here’s the rub -

MacDonell confirmed he is planning to offer a bounty worth about $20 to members of Trappers’ Association of Nova Scotia, whose members caught 1,900 coyotes last year without a bounty.

While he conceded that a bounty would have little impact on the coyote population, he stressed that he felt compelled to do something. (emphasis added)

“I have a concern over who might be attacked or hurt or mauled,” he said. “I know (residents) are not going to call the head of the anglers and hunters if that happens – I’m going to get that call. It’s my responsibility to be more pro-active.”

He said he hopes a bounty will change the coyotes behaviour.

So the Minister actually believes that the bounty will have little effect on coyote behaviour.

But to cover his ass for future indiscretions on the part of their little provincial predator he is willing to use taxpayers dollars to put in place a job enhancement program for the benefit of local trappers.

Knowing how governments seem to work everywhere, that will probably be the full extent of the program.

There is never money available to analyse and assess whether the program is effective and it is unlikely that the trappers would be able to operate in a National Park where the initial tragedy took place anyway.

As well, these laws are rarely set up with end dates, so the bounty program would no doubt carry on long past any reasonable time frame.

In the end it would be a cash cow for the trapping fraternity, who would be guaranteed an extra $20 for every coyote they trapped on top of the fur value. Which certainly would help keep their personal wolves away from the door.

BUT – The politicians will have DONE SOMETHING.

And that’s how we get dumb and useless laws on the books.


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