Green Bay farmer challenging charges, starts petition
MANITOULIN— People from across Manitoulin Island have been lining up, and signing up, to support Green Bay farmer Paul Skippen’s battle against government indifference to the plight of farmers whose grain crops are being devastated by ever-increasing flocks of geese and Sandhill cranes.
Mr. Skippen is facing charges in a Gore Bay court on Thursday, September 3 for killing a Canada goose and hanging it in his fields to scare off the ravenous flocks. Although Mr. Skippen maintains he was simply protecting his crops from the ravenous appetites of ever-increasing numbers of geese and Sandhill cranes, his lack of a permit to shoot the geese led to a Conservation Officer charging him with an indictable offense under the Migratory Bird Act, as well as Provincial Offences Act charges.
“I don’t want to shoot them,” said Mr. Skippen, “but they are stripping my fields. Without a word of a lie there were 500 to 700 of them settling in the field the other day.”
Mr. Skippen had taken down his macabre scarecrows due to pressure from his mother, who was disturbed by some of the negative reaction he received when he first erected the dead geese to ward off the invaders. “My mom was upset,” said Mr. Skippen. “I said ‘mom, I am tired of running out in the fields to chase them off’.” After observing the sheer size of the flocks and Mr. Skippen’s fruitless efforts to chase the birds away, his mother relented. “She told me ‘put them back out’.”
The Green Bay farmer noted that the birds settling in his fields right now are “local birds and their young” proposing that there is worse yet to come. “The northern flocks aren’t even here yet,” he said, “but at least when they come people will be shooting them (with the start of goose hunting season).”
Mr. Skippen said that he remains incensed that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will not take any responsibility for the depravations of the flocks on his fields. “They told me straight up, ‘we are not here to help you’,” he said. “They told me there were here to enforce the Act.”
Mr. Skippen has started a petition that has already garnered the signatures of 89 supporters. “Some of them are farmers, most of them are local people, but not all, some of them are cottagers that are having their own problems with the geese,” he said. “They are supporting me for trying to take the issue forward.”
The farmer said that he realizes this is a battle he will likely lose in court, at the first blush, but one that he feels he must champion for the sake of farmers across the country who are facing the same issues from crop depravations.
“I am going to have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, or maybe in lawyers fees, but someone has to stand up against this,” he said. “It looks like right now that will have to be me. Even if I have to drive the petition down to Toronto to present it to the minister myself, something has to be done.”
Mr. Skippen said that he also realizes that there are a lot of people who do not understand the seriousness of the issue and who are horrified by his decision to hang the bodies of geese in his fields. “If I don’t hang them up the predators will eat them in a night,” he said. “If I don’t do anything there will be nothing left in my fields—there is no crop.”
Don Leblanc of The Beaver Road in Spring Bay called The Expositor offices to report seeing fields “black with Sandhill cranes. There were thousands and thousands of them in the field just up the street from me in Larry Noland’s grain.”
The grain had been cut and laid in windrows ready to be harvested. Mr. Leblanc suggested that within a day or so there was little left to harvest. “If you head out (Highway) 542 toward Mindemoya from here you will see all kinds of them in the fields where there are grain crops. Not as many as I saw up the road the other day, but plenty enough of them.”
Mr. Skippen said that he hopes to have a lawyer address local farmers who come out to support him on the courthouse steps (outside the Gore Bay municipal office) on September 3. Mr. Skippen said that he hopes to have a legal expert advise farmers on what their legal rights are when faced with these circumstances. “I have asked a few of them, hopefully one of them will get back to me and agree to do it,” he said. Mr. Skippen has a local champion in another Green Bay farmer, Ed Ferguson, who has been assisting Mr. Skippen in devising his defence.
In the meantime, Mr. Skippen said that he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he has been receiving from farmers both locally and from across the province in his David and Goliath battle with the government. “I am not going to back down on this,” he said. “There is more than just my crops at stake, this impacts farmers across the province. Somebody has got to stand up to them.”
Mr. Skippen has a simple goal in his sights. “The MNR(F) must have a spring hunt and start the season three weeks early,” he said, “or pay farmers for the destruction.”