By Connor Lynch
Changes to Ontario’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program are a step in the right direction, said the Beef Farmers of Ontario.
The province announced changes, effective Feb. 1, to the program that has drawn ire from the livestock farming community.
The new changes include expanding admissible evidence, including secondary sources of evidence such as herd behaviour and predator kill-site evidence like scat or tracks.
The new appeal process includes a third-party review by members of the Business Risk Management Review Committee, a panel of farmers. The recommendations from that review, however, are non-binding. A spokesperson for the BFO said they support the change, “which aligns with other appeal bodies that serve the agriculture sector.”
There will be updated training and tools for municipal investigators, and an easier to use form to report predation.
Payouts will be an average price for that size an animal, based on market data from market reports two months before the predation occurred, and will also include premiums for registered or pregnant animals.
Said BFO president Joe Hill: “In particular, we would like to thank Minister Hardeman for taking swift action to find solutions to many of the concerns raised by BFO, the Ontario Sheep Farmers, and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.”
Hill added that the BFO does have outstanding concerns, but the organization is confident they will be resolved.
The program got an overhaul back in January 2017, and made changes that many farmers and predator kill investigators found promising. That included letting producers take photos of the scene to submit as evidence, and making training for investigators more consistent across the province.
However, the number of rejected claims jumped from 2016 to 2017, going from a five per cent rejection rate in 2016 to a 20 per cent rejection rate in 2017. Some farmers felt too much power had been given bureaucrats to make the final call on claims. Others felt that the photos were being relied on too heavily, and the opinions of investigators weren’t getting enough weight, especially when evidence was limited and required interpretation.
The previous government announced another rejig of the program in mid-2018, but didn’t get a chance: The Ford government took office in June. By September, new Ag Minister Ernie Hardeman had announced changes, including updating compensation pricing to distinguish between heifers and steers, and letting farmers without a valid Farm Business Registration Number apply to the program.
Coyotes are inevitably the most prolific killers of livestock in Ontario. Last fiscal year, 2017 to 2018, according to data from Ontario’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, coyotes killed 1,428 of the 1,905 livestock killed, about 75 per cent of all predator kills.
The rest of the top five were a bit bizarre: Raccoons were the second-most prolific predator in Ontario, followed by wolves, mink and then ravens.
Sheep remained the top target for predators: 984 were killed from April 2017 to March 2018, more than twice as many as cattle, the next top predator target.