I recently had the pleasure and the privilege of attending the 90th Annual General Meeting and Fish & Wildlife Conference of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (“OFAH”). Although I have been an avid lover of the outdoors for many years, and have had an interest in angling, hunting, and conservation for some time, this is the first chance I have had to attend the OFAH Annual General Meeting and Conference. The theme of the conference was “Celebrating 90 Years of Conservation” and from my experience and from what I learned over the conference weekend, the OFAH certainly has a lot to celebrate. With over 100,000 members, subscribers, and supporters, as well as 740 member clubs across the Province, the OFAH is an incredible force in Ontario environmental and conservation management issues. From what I observed at the Conference, the Federation is certainly meeting its mandate of taking action on outdoor issues, supporting fish and wildlife conservation and outdoor education at the grass roots level, and standing up for the traditions of fishing, hunting and trapping.
I was also very fortunate to be able to attend with my friend and colleague, Leith Coghlin, Managing Director and Founder of EnPointe Development Incorporated, with the intention of meeting as many Federation members, staff, and executive, in order to learn and understand the Federation’s interests and issues from a policy and legal perspective.
Following the conference opening and annual general meeting, as well as the OFAH Year in Review presented by Executive Director Angelo Lombardo, delegates and attendees were treated to an incredible buffet dinner of delicious, locally harvested wild game and produce. I could not get enough of the delicate and tender roast bear, or the delicious venison sausages. The wild caught rainbow trout was the most wonderful piece of fish that I have ever tasted. Over dinner, I was amazed to see the amazing work in conservation that the Federation and its members were doing as a number of awards were presented to leaders in conservation and wildlife management.
The next day, the real learning began. I was enlightened by the excellent line-up of speakers and panelists discussing: Celebrating 25 Years of the Invading Species Awareness Program; How Deer Respond To The Actions Of Hunters And Landowners; A New Outdoors Licencing System In The Province Of Ontario; The Genetics And Migratory Patterns Of The Sandhill Crane Population; and A History And Future For Sustaining An Anglers Dream Landscape In Algonquin Park.
Most interesting to me was a fascinating presentation and discussion on “Indigenous Harvesting Rights, Relationships, and the Path Forward” presented by Matt DeMille, OFAH Manager, Fish & Wildlife Services. Mr. DeMille’s presentation was a fascinating discussion and history of the delicate balance between constitutionally protected indigenous harvesting rights and the OFAH’s legal efforts to clarify and request certainty surrounding the scope and limits of the Aboriginal Rights to fish and hunt for food, protected under s.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Presented on the premise that “conservation is our shared goal and collective responsibility” and that “resource sustainability is common ground for all Ontarians, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous.” Mr. DeMille’s presentation demonstrated the delicate balance between respecting indigenous rights and advocating for a consistent and clear conservation policy across the Province. Although the Federation has been frustrated more than once in its legal and policy efforts in this regard, Mr. DeMille presented an optimistic view of the path forward and the future of cooperation in conservation. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. DeMille following his presentation and throughout the course of the weekend, and I look forward to following, learning more, and working with the Federation and its members in their efforts in conservation and cooperation.
To close the weekend, the delegates and attendees were housed at a wonderful gala dinner where even more excellence in conservation leadership was recognized and Mr. Lombardo, the Executive Director of the OFAH, shared an inspiring message about the 90 years of commitment to Fish & Wildlife Conservation, the Federation’s grass route approach and dedication to protecting our fishing, hunting, and trapping traditions, and the OFAH’s optimistic outlook on what the next 90 years of change and conservation will bring.
I am also looking forward to what the future will bring for conservation and environmental change, and I look forward to learning more about and working with the OFAH and its members in collaboration, cooperation, and conservation.