History of Wildlife Conservation in Alberta
The historical records of early European explorers
indicate that prior to the advance of the fur trade and later
by Europeans, there was an abundance of wildlife in what is now
Alberta. Aboriginal Indians were the only people who occupied the
region at that time and their population was widely dispersed.
Although they used wildlife for food, clothing and shelter, because of
their low numbers and nomadic lifestyles, these people did not have more
than a local effect on wildlife numbers and habitats.
This scene changed rapidly in the late 1800s as European
settlers moved into the province with the expansion of the
railroad. With them came firearms and the ability to kill many
game animals in a short period of time. Unregulated hunting drove
many species, such as Elk and
Pronghorn, to the brink of
elimination in Alberta. Indeed, the Bison was eliminated from much
of the province.
In 1905 Alberta became a province and passed its first
game laws in 1907 to control hunting. In 1908, the Calgary Fish
and Game Protective Association was formed to lobby governments and
educate citizens about the importance of wildlife conservation.
That organization grew into the present-day Alberta Fish and Game
Association, which represents many local clubs of hunters and anglers
throughout the province.
The federal government established Elk Island National
Park in 1904 to protect one of the remaining herds of
Elk in the
province. From 1917 to 1920 over 300 Elk were transplanted from
Yellowstone National Park in Montana to Waterton
Lakes, Banff and
National Parks. Most of the 26 000 Elk found in the province today
are descendants from these transplants. The Plains Bison was
likewise re-introduced into the province from the United States.
But these herds were kept within the national parks.
Early efforts at wildlife conservation concentrated on
enforcing hunting regulations and paying bounties for killing
predators. Ranchers and farmers considered predators (wolf,
coyote, cougar or any bird of prey) to be vermin that should be
eliminated. As well, hunters thought the removal of predators from
an area would increase the number of game animals. Although much
money was paid in bounties, the bounty system was not very successful at
eliminating predator species or increasing the numbers of game. It
was abandoned in 1954.
After World War II ended (1945), oil was discovered in
the province. This resulted in increased revenue for governments,
allowing them to spend more money on wildlife conservation.
Trained wildlife biologists were hired to do scientific studies of
populations and make informed decisions about how species should be
managed. Trained enforcement officers were also hired to ensure
people obeyed wildlife laws. The laws were developed to protect
wildlife and assist the public with problem wildlife concerns. The
staff worked mainly on game animals in the early years. Although
the management of game animals is still a major concern, wildlife
managers have expanded their efforts to include other wildlife species
with particular emphasis on our "threatened" wildlife.
Today, wildlife biologists, technicians and enforcement
staff work with hunters, trappers, naturalists, farmers, ranchers and
industry to maintain our wildlife heritage. Although increasing
human populations and their expanding use of the landscape pose a threat
to wildlife populations and habitats in the future, many species of
Alberta's wildlife are thriving in today's world.
Reprinted from Focus On Wildlife Management (1999) with permission of