Too many MNR visits too often spook Green Bay farmer

Bruce Wood’s concerned about possible harassment

GREEN BAY—  Less than two months after charges were laid against his friend, neighbour and fellow Green Bay farmer Paul Skippen, Bruce Wood received a knock at his door on July 8 from two Manitoulin Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) conservation officers regarding what they took to be an illegal trap belonging to the farmer. Mr. Wood, however, is suspicious as to the ministry’s actual motives.

In an interview with The Expositor, Mr. Wood alleges that the conservation officers (COs) appeared at his door on July 8, informing him that they had taken his trap. The farmer asked the COs what gave them the right to do so as it was a racoon trap, and anybody has the right to trap racoons. He said he was told that the trap was too big for racoons and that it must be a bear trap. Mr. Wood explained that the live trap is big enough to trap a family of racoons, in turn making the relocation even more humane and that nowhere can he find any regulations as to the size of a racoon trap.

Before the arrival of the COs, Mr. Wood said he had taken some medication that makes him feel unwell. At the start of the questioning, he said he told the officers that he was not well and that if the questioning was only going to take a couple of minutes, that would be fine. He said they assured him it would be a short interview, however it was two hours later that the officers left his premises.

“They were trying to get me to say that the neighbour helped me make it, Paul Skippen,” Mr. Wood said.

The visit, he believes, stems from the articles in The Expositor and Manitoulin West Recorder on Mr. Skippen’s charges from shooting a Canada goose without a permit and subsequent court battle over farmers’ rights and crop damage due to nuisance wildlife. “One week after the court case, where I’m there in support of Paul, and I’m being harassed,” he said.

It was indeed a neighbour who helped Mr. Wood create the trap, but it was the late Don Hughson, a retired MNR employee, who actually helped to fashion the device.

“I kept telling them that I had the right to protect my property, livestock and family,” Mr. Wood said.

A comment from one of the COs stayed with him, he said. “He said ‘please don’t follow your neighbour’s actions and embarrass yourself and us’,” Mr. Wood recalled, noting that this, to him, was a direct referral to Mr. Skippen and his time in the news.

“I was unwell through the whole thing, and kept telling them that,” Mr. Wood said.

Halfway through the questioning, the COs asked Mr. Wood if he wanted legal counsel, to which he replied yes. They gave him a card with a 1-800 number for legal aid, but he gave them his lawyer’s name and number instead. The lawyer was never contacted and the interview process continued for another hour.

“They finally just gave up and left,” he said.

That night, still feeling poorly, Mr. Wood said he woke his wife and had her drive him to the emergency department at the hospital in Little Current. “My blood pressure was through the roof and I had to stay there until 3 am.”

The next morning, after a short sleep, Mr. Wood began his usual morning farm chores. “I still had the band on my arm from the hospital when the MNR officers showed up again,” he explained. “You guys are harassing me’,” he said half an hour into questioning, at which point the officers got into their truck and left.

“They came to tell me that I wasn’t going to be charged, but they weren’t going to return my trap because it was too big,” Mr. Wood said. However on Tuesday, July 14, the following week, the trap was returned, this time by a different CO.

After the COs left, Mr. Wood went inside his home and began a series of phone calls, firstly to MPP Michael Mantha’s office whose office staff advised him to call police if he felt he was being harassed, which he did. An OPP officer took his statement, but admitted it would likely do little to solve his problem, but advised him to call back again if he continued to feel harassed.

He also called MNR supervisor Dave Scarlett in Sudbury, a former Manitoulin Island conservation officer, who apologized and said his trap would be returned.

“What gives the MNR the right to steal my property (the racoon trap) without being charged and without consent?” he asked this reporter. “This, I feel, is retaliation.”

“I have over 1,500 acres with at least 50 deer,” the farmer explained. “We pasture them, so why is there no compensation?”

“I really don’t want to have to shoot them (or trap them), it’s time, resources and I just don’t want to, but we (farmers) have to look after our livestock,” he added. “If I were to harass wildlife the way MNR harassed me, to the extent that I ended up in emergency, I would be charged and fined and possibly have to serve jail time because of it.”

Mr. Wood said he lost between five and 10 percent of his gross income last year because of wildlife damage. “Between five and 10 percent of everyone’s gross wages should be taken by the government to cover losses by farmers—everyone should contribute to looking after wildlife, not just farmers.”

Before the COs left, one officer handed Mr. Wood’s son a business card telling him that if there was ever a case of their cattle getting out due to nuisance bears (who are known for opening fences and gates) to just give him a call and he would come and help, as he knew his father was not well. This kind gesture sat well with the farmer, despite the previous events.