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History of Wildlife Conservation in Alberta  

Bull MooseThe historical records of early European explorers indicate that prior to the advance of the fur trade and later settlement 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 inElk Island National Park 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 Jasper 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 Alberta Environment.

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