A Ministry of Natural Resources conservation officer just wishes the public would do its homework before heading out to enjoy nature.
Mark Curry, speaking at the recent Crime Stoppers luncheon, said most conservation issues that crop up in and around Chatham-Kent could be avoided – if people took the time to do a little reading on the Internet.
“Generally, we see resource users not taking the time to determine what is legal and what isn’t,” he said.
That includes not taking turtles home with them, picking wild ginseng, and taking proper precautions when going hunting and fishing.
Curry, who has worked in Chatham-Kent since 2009, said conservation officers here primarily make “hook and bullet” – fishing and hunting – compliance checks, but also have to enforce 27 pieces of legislation.
Priorities for 2017-18 for the MNR include species at risk, invasive species, moose, and hunter safety.
In terms of endangered species, herptiles – reptiles and amphibians – are atop the area of concern locally. Curry said species such as the snapping and spiny soft shell turtles are on the list. It’s illegal to kill, possess, buy or sell such species.
There is a snake in the region that’s also on the list, the eastern fox snake.
Sturgeon are a fish on the list, due to the huge demand for their eggs to make caviar. There is no season locally for sturgeon, so they are illegal to even actively fish for.
Furthermore, there’s a plant that can be found locally that’s on the endangered species list – the American ginseng.
Curry said ginseng is desired for perceived medicinal properties in certain cultures.
“There’s a big market for that,” he said. “There is a lot of farmed ginseng near Simcoe.”
But digging it up in the wild is illegal.
Ginseng in its natural habitat is generally found in old growth forest, and can take years to mature.
Protecting species is also made more difficult as people bring in invasive species to the province, Curry said. From phragmites plants to fish such as the goby, Asian carp and snakeheads, these species can rapidly take over ecosystems.
Curry said huge tanker trucks used to bring live Asian carp across the border from the U.S., but they now must already be eviscerated before coming into the country. The extreme measure was necessary, he said.
“If you were to drain the tanks and put ice in there and later put water back in, fish that appeared dead came back to life,” he said.
As for gobies, the MNR asks that anglers not use the fish as bait. If they get free, they will be introduced into that ecosystem.
And then there is the snakehead. These fish can breathe out of water, able to last for several days in moist conditions. They crawl from pond to pond.
The snakeheads, dubbed “Frankenfish,” will eat pretty much anything – fish eggs, fish, frogs, toads, you name it.
“They are very fast growers and can out-compete other fish and take over,” Curry said.
It is illegal to release these invasive fish into Ontario waters.