For outsiders, a big part of the allure of the Peace Country is the expanse of wilderness up here. In a world that is constantly becoming more cluttered and claustrophobic this region can still provide a sense of freedom and adventure. Up here, it is possible to recapture a sense of the way our ancestors lived, on the land, against the elements, bringing down wild game for their very survival.
Now all that is for sport alone, but the thrill is still there. Legal hunting and fishing is one thing: it is monitored, sustainable, and even necessary sometimes. Poaching is just the opposite; tending to be excessive, wasteful and difficult to track. It is damaging to legitimate hunting, and often poachers have little concern for the humane treatment of animals.
Poaching has been a problem in Alberta for years. Some people find satisfaction in just buying moose steaks for their table, or purchasing a deer head trophy for their den, and there is always someone willing to make a couple hundred by catering to such people. intermittent, small fry poachers are out there, but worse, large-scale wildlife trafficking organizations are out there too.
In 1986, the Spirit River area was the scene of an experiment in cracking down on poachers. An undercover Fish and Wildlife officer, posing as a driver for a pair of poachers, succeeded in cracking “one of the most notorious poaching not-for-profit operations ever cracked in Alberta.” The B.C. men were here to shoot moose in their wintering ground Northwest of Spirit River in mid-December. Two cow moose were shot, only one killed, and two unborn calves were left in the snow. Those weren’t the only animals the men had shot. Spirit River locals had been complaining for years about poachers killing moose, providing the only information that officers could act on. Their tips got the undercover officer assigned to the Spirit River moose-poaching ring, which was estimated to have involved about 200 moose. The meat was sold in Alberta (to undercover officers) and B.C., although the main buyer was never pinned down.
That experimental poaching sting here in Spirit River and others like it in Alberta became the model for other province’s undercover poacher-busting war against wildlife traffickers. Alberta stayed a step ahead, creating the community based Report A Poacher program in 1990 to make it easy to tip off local authorities. About 4000 calls are received in a year from people actively protecting their property rights, hunting privileges, and wildlife.
You can read Hunting the Hunters, Bruce Masterman’s article about the Spirit River moose-poaching sting, in the Calgary Herald (October 19, 1986) here. It is well-worth the read.