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This article was published 16/2/2016 (857 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Provincial cuts to conservation officers could see more people killed by hunters who illegally hunt at night using spotlights, the Manitoba Wildlife Federation says.
A youth in Sagkeeng First Nation was fatally shot by a fellow night hunter five years ago.
Last September, a bullet sailed through the window and lodged into a cabinet two feet above Doreen Sliworsky's head as she lay sleeping in her home near Winnipegosis.
A bullet from a high-powered rifle can sail several kilometres. The Sliworsky family believe the bullet that nearly killed their mother came from hunters about a kilometre away.
Dorren Sliworksy's daughter Sharon Lytwyn said her mother sat bolt upright after the bullet just missed her head.
"She was like, 'There could have been a funeral. I could have been gone," said Lytwyn. Her mother was scared and shaken up, and other family members are angry that more isn't being done to stop spotlighting, she said.
Spotlighting — the practice of hunters using spotlights to shoot wild game after dark — is illegal, but the wildlife federation said provincial cutbacks have severely weakened enforcement.
The number of Manitoba conservation officers has dropped from about 140 down to 90 in the past 20 years. Conservation offices in Grandview and Mafeking were recently closed. As well, special aides who helped bolster staffing at conservation offices were let go three years ago.
Meanwhile, spotlighting "is getting worse and worse," said Fred Tait, a MWF board member, who farms near Rossendale, southwest of Portage la Prairie.
"My neighbour's horse was shot, my neighbour's cow was shot," Tait said at a Winnipeg press conference Tuesday, held by the federation. Farm machinery and outbuildings are also discovered the with bullet holes, he said.
Other recent cost-cutting measures at Manitoba Conservation include a moratorium on overtime and suspension of its aerial surveillance program for two years, until it was brought back last fall. Aerial surveillance is a key tool in catching night-lighters.
Dwayne Strate, a conservation officers for 35 years before retiring last fall, who attended the press conference, confirmed the cuts. "It's fewer officers covering larger geographical areas," he said.
Strate said it's not just patrol for spotlighting that is suffering but also patrol of sport fishing, commercial fishing and forestry. "The guys work all hours but you can't work 24/7."
The province maintains it has "over 100 conservation officers regularly in the field," and "funding for conservation officer positions has been maintained over the past few years."
A provincial spokesman also said the Winnipegosis shooting is being investigated by RCMP as well as conservation staff.
"The province will continue to work with all parties on this file in order to keep Manitoba families safe," he said.
An animal hit with a spotlight will become blinded and freeze, allowing a hunter a clear, standing shot.
The practice is not illegal for aboriginal people, who have constitutional hunting rights, so long as night hunting is practised in what's considered a safe area.
The federation has no qualms over aboriginal rights, but has been asking the province for years to clarify what are safe areas. The Association of Manitoba Municipalities has also petitioned the province on the issue.
"In safe hunting practices, you must be sure of your target, and sure of your backdrop, and at night you're not sure of your backdrop," said Tait.
Strate conceded that conservation officers sometimes go to arrest spotlighters only to discover they are aboriginal hunters exercising their legal rights to hunt.
However, many aboriginal people also have as much disdain for people who hunt with a spotlight. "Most aboriginal people will tell you they don't support nightlighting. They are very good at being conservationists," said Strate.
The wildlife federation has initiated its own talks with nine First Nations about its concerns over spotlighting. However, the MWF doesn't have the resources to talk to all First Nations, and argues that is the province's role.
MWF clarified it is not pointing fingers at First Nations people, noting they can also be victimized by spotlighters. Also, numerous non-aboriginal spotlighters have been arrested in recent years.
Strate said the province has seized 51 vehicles from hunters caught spotlighting since 1994. The law gives Manitoba Conservation that authority. Those vehicles were not returned. Two parties were caught spotlighting last fall, and two expensive trucks were seized, near Swan River, Strate said.
The maximum fine for spotlighting is $50,000.
Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues for going on two decades.
Updated on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 1:15 PM CST: Changes photo.
1:30 PM: Writethru; adds photo.
2:17 PM: Writethru.
3:00 PM: Adds comment from province.
4:00 PM: Clarifies status of aerial surveillance program.