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International big-game hunters pay to hunt year-round in Alberta

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The Minister's Special Licence program auctions off 12 licences to non-resident and resident hunters annually.

This year, it took off restrictions on when those permits can be used, making them applicable for an entire year, not just during hunting season.

Corey Jarvis is the president of the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society and says this year's auction generated close to a million dollars.

"Our organization is now in charge of the auctioning of these permits," he said.

"We're tasked with generating this revenue and of course, our interest is to try and bring the most value to the province that we can for these special permits."

Jarvis says the society is in charge of marketing the permits and members go down to the United States to do so.

The Safari Club International hosts one big event and the Wild Sheep Foundation hosts another where hunters pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a chance at a big-game trophy.

Jarvis says these changes now in the conditions have put Alberta more on a level playing field with other jurisdictions across North America, on the international market where these auctions take place.

"There shouldn't be anything negative around this," he said.

"This should be a good-news story because these licences are in place to generate additional revenue for use in conservation projects, habitat improvement projects and general wildlife enhancement projects for the province."

Jarvis says some critics of the program changing to year-round hunting say it will put added stress on wildlife but he doesn't agree.

"That's completely unfounded and not true," Jarvis said.

"Wildlife live as a hunted species, whether it's humans or cougars or wolves or whatever … a cougar chasing sheep across the mountain for a mile is certainly going to be a lot more stressful than one hunter taking and harvesting an animal."

A statement from the province says the Minister's Special Licence (MSL) program offers opportunities for 12 non-resident and resident hunters to hunt six species of game animals using enhanced season lengths and an expanded hunting area.

"These hunts are sustainable, well-regulated and provide up to $1.3 million annually in funding for partner-led conservation initiatives benefiting both game species and the Albertans who enjoy them," it reads.

"Holders of an MSL are allowed to hunt year-round for the species associated with their tag, as long as they are in a Wildlife Management Area that already has an existing hunting season for that species. However, they will generally choose times of the year where elk, moose and mule deer, for example, have achieved full growth in antler size."

The province says hunts are managed using applicable regulations that ensure ethical standards are met by licence holders and risk to population health via hunting-related stress is negligible, and it is continually monitoring populations to ensure sustainable harvest quota for all species.

Glen Pickering, a hunter who lives south of High River, Alta., says in winter, many species are struggling and shouldn't be hunted out of the regular fall season.

He points to a closure of a large area in the Sheep River Valley where an infectious pneumonia was found in a nearby bighorn sheep herd.

The closure facilitates constraining the outbreak while provincial officials monitor the issue.

"Why do we need to generate this revenue when we have $20 million generated by hunters?" he said.

"It's unethical to be harvesting these animals and clearly, you can see what's going on in the Sheep River Sanctuary right now. We lost 100 per cent of our most important genetic wildlife population of bighorn sheep – they died off from pneumonia and the rest were shot and killed. This is totally wrong." 

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