By Connor Lynch
TWEED — Tweed-area beef farmer Harold Bateman has received compensation from The Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation program six times so far this year.
With the latest changes from the provincial government that came this spring, he said the program has been much improved. Though, he still thinks it has room for improvement, and not all farmers agree that things are working well.
On Feb. 1, the latest updates to the oft-maligned and already tweaked program came into effect. They let producers include secondary evidence like scat as proof of predation; introduced a new appeal process done by farmers; updated training and tools for municipal investigators, who make the initial determination if a kill took place or not; and changed payouts to reflect average prices, based on market data (previously, payments were based on what the investigator thought was a fair price for the animal).
Bateman said OMAFRA is still being “a little fanatic on the pictures.” The bar for photographic evidence is high, which can be frustrating. The former Liberal government updated the program to allow producers to include their own evidence, including photos. Photos showing the kind of clear evidence OMAFRA wants, like teeth marks and blood trails, can be difficult to get, since when coyotes attack a calf, “they don’t stand back and let it bleed to death” Bateman said. “They eat it.”
He has an appeal in for his latest claim, which was rejected. “It’s better than it was. But I can’t say it’s 100 per cent.”
Kinburn-area sheep farmer and Ontario Sheep Farmers director Chris Moore said the program is working well. Sheep are regularly the top target of predators in Ontario, and consequently Moore was up-to-date on the latest stats about the program. As of June 30, about 135 applications had been sent in to OMAFRA, said Moore. Of those, 118 were approved, with the remainder either declined or found to be ineligible.
Investigators getting training was huge, Moore said. “That’s been really, really good.”
Of course, as Bateman pointed out, nothing is 100 per cent. Some producers have complained about payments coming out later, but Moore said that’s largely due to the 30-day appeal window after OMAFRA approves a claim. Said Moore: “It’s not gonna make everyone happy all the time, but it’s pretty fair. It seems to be working.”
But some farmers have been having difficulty even getting claims through. Ottawa-area sheep farmer Colleen Acres said she submitted a couple of claims in July and August to OMAFRA and hasn’t even heard back. She’s since had to go out and buy animals to replace her losses.
Some farmers take umbrage with the fact that OMAFRA gets the final say at all. Gary Fox, who farms at Bloomfield in Prince Edward County, said that many farmers aren’t happy that OMAFRA can reject claims that investigators approve. The delays are also frustrating to farmers, and many would like a system where if a producer has no intention of appealing for more compensation, he can let OMAFRA know and get a payment right away. He also said that the two layers of government involved can slow things down as well (municipalities make the actual payment to producers once it’s approved, and the province reimburses them later). Fox said he submitted a claim back in August that he has yet to hear back on.
According to OMAFRA spokesperson Bianca Jamieson, the deadline for OMAFRA to reply to a producer who has submitted a completed application is 30 business days. According to Jamieson, 99 per cent of claims have been processed inside that window. For producers who’ve sent in a claim but haven’t heard back, reach out to email@example.com, or call 1-877-424-1300.
Jamieson added that decision timelines can vary based on how many applications have come in, or if a given application is missing information, but if you apply, you’ll get a response. “All applicants to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program receive a response regardless of the outcome of their application,” she said.
EASTERN ONTARIO: Pred-kill compensation program improved, but payment delays still an issue
By Connor Lynch