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HCA vows action on Iroquoia Heights poaching concerns

Conservation area will get new signs, closer watch, CAO says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton Conservation Authority is promising to put up no-hunting signs at main entrances to Iroquoia Heights and keep a closer eye on the area in response to worries that people may be poaching deer there.

Janice Wilson said she and her friends are frequents visitors to the west Mountain conservation area and first became concerned about illegal hunting when they discovered a “well-constructed” deer blind there in mid-October.

They found other signs of hunting, she said, including a campsite by a deer passageway underneath Highway 403 that had been marked with phosphorescent ribbons, which she and her friends removed.

Wilson said a recent clearing of brush by hydro lines by Scenic Drive has also created an easy access to the area and she’s been told a truck has driven in there at night, with two hunters using the vehicle’s roof as a perch to shoot at deer.

She said she’s heard gun shots at night and fears deer don’t have much of a chance against poachers because they’ve become so tame they will accept an apple from an outreached hand.

“I know deer are considered a natural resource, but I find it a great injustice when hunters can come in and kill these animals that we really love,” Wilson told authority directors in a presentation.

“I have seen in the daytime hunters in there. They don’t seem to be concerned if you see them or not, unless you pull out your cell phone. But most of the hunting that’s happening in there is happening at night.”

Chief administrative officer Chris Firth Eagland said staff immediately investigated the reported poaching and didn’t find any empty shotgun shell casings or other evidence of hunting, but the authority isn’t taking any chances.

There have been periodic instances of poaching at Iroquoia Heights in the past, although in some cases people mistake forts made by kids for blinds hunters use to hide from their prey, the latter of which are usually up in a tree, he said.

Some of the evidence provided by Wilson, including some empty gun packaging, night goggles and a shot-up beer can, might be from BB guns, he said, noting the ammunition didn’t penetrate the beer can.

“We do respect and take seriously comments from her and her friends, and are going to strongly consider that poaching could have been taking place and may in the future,” Firth-Eagland said.

“So we’ll ensure the signage goes up and will keep a close watch on the property,” he said, encouraging the public to continue to report any suspected poaching and other illicit activity, like bush parties.

“We’re going to take the comments to heart. We just don’t want to alarm the community that there is a scenario that is larger in scope.”

Firth-Eagland said the concerns come as a special deer advisory committee is on schedule to review the situation at Iroquoia Heights next year.

The committee was formed after a 2009 aerial survey counted 102 deer at the 66-hectare park, or about 90 more than the Ministry of Natural Resources deemed ecologically desirable.

In 2011, the committee recommended against a hunt to allow for other potential solutions to control the population, including efforts to dissuade people from feeding deer and better lighting by a hydro corridor by Mohawk Road to reduce collision hazards.

Another aerial survey in February of this year spotted just 58 deer at Iroquoia Heights. Firth-Eagland has attributed the lower numbers to reduced feeding and the lack of snow cover in February, which made deer less prone to herd there.

The Haudenosaunee, who are in the midst of a third annual deer hunt in selected areas of the Dundas Valley, have thus far said they aren’t interested in expanding to Iroquoia Heights because the area is too close to homes, creating a potential safety issue.

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