Running with the Bulls in Fort McMurray

Who says horror stories can’t have happy endings? After nearly two years, the Texaco East Pond has been restocked and is open to fishing again. The popular local fishing hole was closed after an angler reported an unusual catch on June 23, 2015. This fishy find was in fact a black bullhead – a species of catfish – and the ecological impacts it had on the pond were devastating.

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Dressing and transporting your kill

This blog series is targeted towards first time hunters and focuses on safe and sustainable hunting in Alberta. Check out a list of all the topics in the series here. This is the fifth article in the series.

It’s extremely important to follow safe practices and procedures while hunting. While on a hunt, conditions can change rapidly and good safety practices can mean the difference between life and death. Make sure you’re prepared and have educated yourself before heading out.

There are a few things you need to know about how to dress and transport your kill so that you ensure the meat is usable.

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No black? Put it back! You can help the bull trout recover in Alberta

When we announced the recovery of the trumpeter swan last week, we had some not-so-great news as well: four species have been added to Alberta’s Threatened Species List. One of the species added to the list is the bull trout, Alberta’s provincial fish.

Photo of a biologist holding a bull trout.

Photo credit: Blair Reilly, ESRD.

Threats to the bull trout 

Photo of bull trout habitat in Jacques Lake, Alberta.

Changes to the bull trout’s native habitat have contributed to its decline.

Bull trout were once abundant in at least 60 of Alberta’s watersheds, including downstream of pretty much all of our mountains and foothills. Today, only seven of those watersheds have healthy populations – all of which are found in national or provincial parks. The fish is now absent from 20 watersheds where it was once found, and the total number of bull trout remaining is estimated at only 20,000 province-wide.

Over time, the bull trout’s habitat and spawning grounds have been impacted by dams and weirs and development; competition with other species has also played a role. Bull trout take a long time to mature, produce relatively few eggs, and may spawn only every second year – so recovery is a slow and delicate process. Although fishing restrictions have been in place since the 1990s, illegal harvesting may be interfering with recovery efforts. Continue reading

First time hunting in Alberta? Here’s what you need to do before applying for a licence.

This blog series talks about safe & sustainable hunting in Alberta. Check out a list of all the topics in the series here.

Last week, we looked at the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) system in Alberta. According to its wildlife management goals, each WMU has a different number of special licences available for different species of game. The draw system, which we’ll talk about in the next post, helps allocate these licences.

Photo of a hunter on agricultural public land

Taking the Hunter’s Education course and getting your WIN card will set you up for safe and responsible hunting.

But before you can apply for draws, or for general licences (which are unlimited and not specific to any WMU) you have to be eligible to hold a recreational hunting licence in Alberta. This requires two things:

  1. That you have held a hunting licence, passed a hunter competency exam, and/or completed a hunter education course, either in Alberta or elsewhere.
  2. A special ID number, called a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN)

If you are a first time hunter in Alberta here’s how you get those things:

  1. Take the Alberta Conservation and Hunter Education course

All first-time hunters must complete a course on conservation and hunter education in Alberta. You are a first-time hunter if:

  • You have not previously held a hunting licence (in Alberta or elsewhere) AND
  • You have not passed a hunter competency test (in Alberta or elsewhere) AND
  • You have not successfully completed a hunter education course (in Alberta or elsewhere)

You can take the course online, or at brick-and-mortar locations throughout Alberta. The Alberta Hunter Education Instructor Association can help you find the course that’s right for you – they also have practice exams and other tools available. When you pass the course’s final exam with at least 80%, you will receive a Hunter Education Card.

If you have completed an education course, passed a competency exam, or held a hunting licence in a jurisdiction other than Alberta, you do not need to complete the course as long as you can show proof of this.

If you are not an Alberta resident, you don’t need to complete the course in order to hunt in Alberta, but you must be accompanied by a licensed Guide or Hunter Host.

  1. Get your WIN card

A WIN card is a Wildlife Identification Number card. Your WIN is a unique number that helps us keep track of all of your hunting and fishing licence data. Your card functions like a credit card when you apply for licences, confirming your eligibility right away without lots of extra paperwork.

Illustration of an Alberta WIN card.

Your permanent WIN card will look like this.

A WIN number is needed to buy all hunting and fishing licences in Alberta – so you’ll need one even if you’re coming from outside the province or you’re under the age of 18. You can apply for your WIN card online at or visit a private licence issuer – you pay a small fee and receive your number instantly, so you can apply for licences right away.

You’ll get your permanent WIN card in the mail within six weeks, and it will be valid for five years. When you need to renew it, you can renew it either online or in person. The My Wild Alberta website has a whole page of FAQs about the WIN card, so head there if you have more specific questions.

Once you’ve completed these two steps, you are ready to apply for available hunting and fishing licences, as well as draws for special licences in your Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) of choice. We’ll be back next Wednesday to explain how that works.

Alberta’s Wildlife Management Units – how they affect you

One of the hardest hurdles for many new hunters to overcome is figuring out what they can hunt – and where in the province they can hunt it.

These rules are in place to prevent overhunting. This is crucial, both to protect Alberta’s biodiversity, and to protect the future of hunting. Over-hunting can endanger species or even eliminate them from the landscape – and no animals means no hunting.

To keep the hunting tradition alive, we must make sure that our native game species continued to thrive.

To keep the hunting tradition alive, we must make sure that our native game species continued to thrive.

Alberta offers many great hunting opportunities throughout the province for both big game and bird game. This is in part because the majority of the hunting community are great environmental stewards who understand the need to pay it forward. Good management helps us keep the hunting tradition going into the next generation.

Crunching the numbers

So, we need a way of deciding who gets to hunt what – and a way to make sure that it treats everyone fairly. If limiting the number of animals hunted is the goal, why not just set quotas for the entire province?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work – because our province isn’t a single ecosystem. Instead, it’s made of many different ecosystems, each with unique wildlife populations and needs. To be responsible, rules for hunting in each area have to reflect these needs. That’s where Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) come in.

Alberta is divided into about 185 WMUs. Each WMU has its own population goals for the various game species. Based on our population counts, we calculate the number of animals that can be harvested for each species while meeting those goals. Then, we use that number to figure out the number of licences that can be made available for hunters.

This is why the number of licences available for a particular species can differ across WMUs. If there is an overabundance of a particular species, more licences may be issued. But if the goal is to keep the population stable, fewer licences would be available.

In other words, this system helps us meet our goals for wildlife population management. It also helps us spread hunting opportunities throughout the province, making things more equitable. And both of these things help keep hunting sustainable.

So, now that you know a bit more about WMUs work, how do you figure out what they mean for you?

3 simple steps to navigating WMUs:

  1. Decide where in the province you’d like to hunt. Keep in mind that you need Map of Alberta's Wildlife Management Unitspermission to hunt on privately owned land. To access agriculture or grazing leases, check the access conditions on the AEP website.
  2. Use this map to find out which WMU that area is part of. (Click on the map to visit the interactive webpage.) Find the number on the map and click on it on the left-hand side of the webpage to see the exact boundaries of your WMU.
  3. Use the Alberta Hunting Draws booklet (issued in May of each year) to find out:
  • Draw details and dates for that WMU, if you want to hunt big game.
  • Other rules and restrictions for that WMU. (We’ll be talking about some of those later on in the series.)

Learning where and when you can hunt is the first step towards a responsible and rewarding hunting experience. If you’re a first-time hunter, the next step is making sure you’re legally allowed to hunt and use a firearm in Alberta. That’s what we’ll be talking about next time. And don’t forget, you can see the full list of topics in this series here. 

Know Before you Go: the hunting edition


For many Albertans, one of the biggest appeals of hunting is a feeling of freedom and independence – of living off the land and enhancing a relationship with nature.

So newcomers to the sport are often surprised – and confused – by how many rules there are. From getting a WIN card, to applying for draws, to safely using your gun and packing up your kill – there’s a lot to know.

These rules are definitely necessary. They help us maintain Alberta’s wildlife populations – and that helps us keep the hunting tradition alive. But the complexity of managing wildlife in a province as big and diverse as this means that some of the rules have to be pretty…well, complex.

We’ve talked to lots of Albertans who’d like to try hunting and want to make sure they do it responsibly – but are intimidated by all the rules or don’t know where to start.

We believe that following the rules should always be as easy as possible. So we’re starting up a series of posts to provide first-time hunters – and maybe even some old pros as well – with the info they need to have a safe, responsible, and sustainable hunting experience.

Photo of a ringnecked pheasant.

Know before you go – the hunting edition

  1. An introduction to Wildlife Management Units and what they mean for you
  2. First time hunter? Here’s what you need to get set up
  3. Navigating the paperwork: draws, licences, permits and tags
  4. Rules for safe, responsible hunting
  5. Dressing and transporting your kill
  6. Hunting non-licence and pest animals
  7. Special post: info for non-resident hunters and the hunter hosts who love them

Know Before you Go: Spring fishing closures kick in soon. Here’s how they impact you.

Photo of a people fishing in a fishing boat

It might be cold right now – but spring is definitely here (at least, according to the calendar). And after a long, cold winter spent huddled in ice fishing huts, we know that anglers are particularly eager to get out in the warmer weather.

But before you throw your gear in the car and head for the lake, remember: it’s your responsibility to review this year’s sportfishing regulations for the scheduled spring fishing closures.

Why these closures are needed

Spring and fall fishing closures protect fish populations during critical spawning seasons. They are lifted once those periods are over.

Most of Alberta’s fish populations are maintained by spawning in the wild – i.e., they’re not stocked by ESRD. Successful spawning periods are critical to keeping these fish populations healthy. And since more fish = better fishing, they’re good for anglers too.

Where and when are the closures in my area?

Closures can apply to any water body that serves as important fish habitat – including lakes, reservoirs, and streams. We try to keep closure dates consistent in each of the three main ecosystem zones, but there are always exceptions – check pages 33-88 of the 2014 Guide to Sportfishing Regulations for your specific destination before you hit the road.

Map of Alberta's Fish Management Zones

Parkland-Prairie Zone

  • Prairies: most lakes, reservoirs, streams, and canals are closed to fishing from April 1-May 8
  • Parkland: most lakes are closed to fishing from April 1 until the Friday of the May long weekend (this year, that’s May 16th)

Northern Boreal Zone

  • Most lakes are generally closed to fishing from April 1 until the Friday of the May long weekend (May 16th  in 2014)
  • Most streams are closed to fishing from November 1 – May 31

Eastern Slopes

  • Closure dates differ – check pages 32-50 of the Regulations Guide

Where can I fish in the meantime?

Every year, we stock about 300 lakes, reservoirs and ponds with trout; these remain open throughout the year. Click here (or check page 16 of your Regulations Guide) to find one near you.

Bait bans and barbless hooks: fishing responsibly this Family Fishing Weekend

Family Fishing Weekend banner Feb 2014

Across Alberta, eager anglers are counting down the days to Family Fishing Weekend. You’ve packed your tents, gathered your equipment, and – if you’re new to the sport – maybe you’ve watched our Intro to Ice Fishing video to prepare for your first time out.

But remember: before you head out on the open ice, it’s up to you to learn the ropes of responsible fishing. Although Family Fishing Weekend lets you fish without a licence, it doesn’t let you off the hook (so to speak) for following the rules we have in place to protect our fishy friends.

All fishing regulations still apply during Family Fishing Weekend.

We talked about the basics in Monday’s post, but two subjects deserve special attention: bait bans and barbless hooks.

Bait bans

A bait ban is currently in place for many parts of the province (see the Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations for bans near you.) What counts as bait? Well, basically any type of food that you attach to your hook. You can fish in these areas, but only using lures.

Why? Bait bans are issued for areas where endangered or at risk species of fish tend to congregate. These species are protected: any fish caught must be released.

These fish share their habitats with many species that are not at-risk, and your goal might be to catch one of these fish. Unfortunately, when you cast your line, you can’t put a name tag on it – and you might end up hooking an endangered species.

Ordinarily, if this happens, you can just release the fish – no harm done. But using bait makes this more complicated.

Most fish prefer bait to lures, which is unsurprising – they just look tastier. But fish tend to swallow bait quickly – and the hook holding the bait usually gets lodged deep in the fish’s throat. This makes it hard to remove the hook – and doing so might hurt or even kill the fish, particularly if you’re not experienced at doing it.

Bait bans help keep more of Alberta’s lakes and rivers open for fishing, while protecting our vulnerable native species. Please help us keep these areas open by respecting bait bans in your local area.

Barbless hooks

Bait bans help with this problem. But if a barbed hook is used – even without bait – it can still hurt or kill your catch.

Barbless hooks make catch-and-release fishing much easier, particularly for novice anglers and children. And catch-and-release fishing is good for the fish populations: it keeps more fish in the rivers, to produce more offspring.

That’s why  Alberta has been barbless since 2004 – and why we’re currently asking all anglers to keep barbed hooks out of our waters this year.

This Family Fishing Weekend is your chance to catch a memory

From February 15th-17th Albertans can try their hand at ice fishing – no licence required.

Family Fishing Weekend banner Feb 2014

If you’re looking for a new way to spend Family Day this year, it’s time to get off the beaten track – and on to the ice.

Ice fishing is a great way for family and friends to spend some quality time together (after all, cold temperatures are bound to encourage closeness). And it’s also a great way for children to get close to nature – and learn how to protect it for future generations.

Like any new sport, ice fishing can be intimidating to get into – especially since ordinarily, it requires a licence. That’s why every year, Family Fishing Weekend gives Albertans a chance to try ice fishing, with no licence required.

This is a great chance to try out a new sport – and to teach your children and other loved ones the ropes of responsible angling.

Of course, not every ice fishing enthusiast has a built-in tutor at their disposal. So Calgary’s Bow Habitat Station has put together a little how-to video to get you started:

Intrigued? Excited? Just want to cut through ice with a really big saw? All the details you need are here.

Remember: all normal sport fishing regulations still apply during Family Fishing Weekend. Some rules to keep in mind:

  • Minimize harm to fish when catch-and-release fishing by using barbless hooks and handling fish carefully before releasing them back into the water.
  • Know your area’s regulations for how many fish – and what kind of fish – you can catch this season, and make sure you know how to recognize them.
  • Keep things clean: wash your fishing equipment after using it.
  • National parks are not included in Free Fishing Weekend locations – click here to see where to fish this weekend.

If you’ll be taking a fishing hut with you to keep things a little warmer, just remember that the deadline to remove it is March 31st.

Know before you go: 4 easy steps to accessing agricultural lease land

Photo of a hunter on agricultural public land

Respecting the land – and your leaseholder – by following four quick and simple steps.

Every year, we receive a lot of variations of the same question: “is land under an agricultural lease open to public access?” When Albertans ask this question, what they often really want to know is whether or not they can hunt, ride, hike, or camp on this land, and if they need special permission to do so.

Agricultural leases are often surrounded by fences and gates and can seem like private property. But leased public land is typically accessible for recreation – as long as you do so responsibly. Here are the steps you need to follow.

1. Figure out who owns the land you want to visit.

Some agricultural land is privately owned; it’s your responsibility to find out land ownership before you go onto a piece of property. You can find detailed maps, access conditions, and the contact info for public land leaseholders here or call 1-866-279-0023 to get this info toll-free. You can also request a map from the County or Municipal District that includes the area’s private and public lands and the name of the landowner or leaseholders associated with them.

2. If the land is not privately owned, find out whether or not you must contact the leaseholder.

If the land you want to visit is held under a permit – like a grazing permit, hay permit, or cultivation permit –  or a forest grazing licence, you don’t need to contact the holder. You must still follow basic conditions to use this land as well as any specific conditions that have been established for the the local settlement officer.

Basic conditions are as follows:

  • No littering on public land.
  • Park vehicles clear of driveways and access routes.
  • Do not use a building or other improvements found on the agriculture disposition.
  • Leave gates the way you found them – opened or closed.
  • Do not cause any damage to the land or the property of the agriculture disposition holder.
  • Any animals brought onto the land must be under direct control of the recreational user.

You are required to contact the leaseholder of any land held under a lease for grazing or farm development. The majority of agricultural public land in Alberta falls into this category. You can find contact info for your area – as well the conditions for using the land – here.

If the leaseholder chooses not to provide any contact or condition information, standard access conditions will apply, and recreational users will be allowed to access the lease without making contact.

3.    Contact the leaseholder, taking steps to solve any disagreements.

You should contact the leaseholder at least two weeks prior to your trip. Talking to the leaseholder for your destination will give you important information about the area, including any sensitive areas, hazards, or livestock that you need to be aware of.

There are certain circumstances under which the landowner can refuse access to you – namely, when:

  • Your access will be by anything other than foot (motorized vehicle, horse, etc.)
  • Livestock are present in the area in a fenced pasture
  • A crop has not been harvested
  • A fire ban has been issued for the area by a municipal or provincial authority
  • You are going to camp in the area
  • Your proposed use of the land is prohibited by the area’s recreation management plan, or a condition set by the government

If you have a disagreement with a leaseholder and can’t resolve it, you can call 310-0000 – AEP staff will try to assist you with reaching an agreement. If one cannot be reached, we can guide you to a more formal process for resolving the dispute.

Photo of an open gate outside agricultural land

Before you leave, make sure gates – and everything else – are the way they were when you arrived. Photo credit: Evelyn Simak, licensed for reuse.

4.    Respect the land – minimize your impact. 

Regardless of what kind of agricultural land you are accessing, you need to follow basic steps to minimize your impact and protect the landscape, as well as some unique steps for protecting leased land:

  • Park your vehicle clear of any driveways and/or access routes for the property.
  • Leave gates the way you found them (i.e. open or closed).
  • Pack out all litter and take care not to damage land or property – leave things the way you found them.
  • Get special consent from the leaseholder prior to lighting any fires.