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Wild Animal Law of Canada


Wildlife Act (Alberta)

(current to 01 August 2016)

Note Re Application of the Wildlife Act ('WA')

Alberta's Wildlife Act ('WA') regime is complex and difficult to readily apply, mostly as a result of the need to locate any particular species of animal within the many unique categories used in the WA, and to locate and apply the multitudes of exceptions that apply to it's already complex regulatory structure.

Under the WA an 'animal' is defined as "a vertebrate, other than a human being or fish" [WA 1(1)] [fish are primarily dealt with under their own legislation: the Fisheries (Alberta) Act (see that module)]. Additionally, unless expressly specified or implied by the context, any reference to an animal includes a reference to a live animal [WA 1(5)].

From the start then the WA captures both live domestic and live wild animals, with the emphasis of course on the latter. However from there on the complexity starts. 'Wildlife' are not defined descriptively, but instead are listed by species in Schedule 4 of the Wildlife Regulation. That pattern is repeated for multiple other categories of animal, land areas and other key terms necessarily to apply the legislation. These are listed, with reference to their apppropriate Schedules, in s.1(b) below.

Most species that are commonly known as 'exotics' are referred to as 'controlled animals' in the Act and are listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Regulation. I have not written a special section for these animals, but where WA law applies to them that is noted in the other topical sections (eg. s.2 'Ownership and Possession of Wildlife').

This law bears on the wildlife issues of:
  • SALE
The full current text of this legislation (including regulations) may be viewed at the Alberta statute website.


Table of Contents
1. Overview
(a) General
(b) Terminology
2. Ownership and Possession of Wildlife
(a) Ownership
(b) Possession
3. Wildlife Prohibitions and Protections
(a) Molesting or Destroying Houses, Nests or Dens
(b) Domestic and Other Owned Animals Interfering with Wildlife
(c) Diseased or Infested Wildlife
4. Hunting
(a) Hunting Defined
(b) Hunting License Required
(c) General Hunting Provisions
5. Trapping
(a) Overview
(b) Fur-Bearing Animals
(c) Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)
6. Import/Export/Relocation
7. Trafficking in Wildlife
8. Zoos
(a) Zoo Permits
(b) Zoo Standards
(c) Miscellaneous
9. Species-at-Risk
10. Human Health and Safety
11. Civil Liability
(a) Property Claims
(b) Liability of Wildlife Officers, Wildlife Guardians and Persons Assisting
12. Enforcement

1. Overview

(a) General

Like most provincial hunting, trapping and fishing statutes the WA's regulation regime relies heavily on licensing and similar approvals such as permits and authorizations. The form of such a regime is simple in that it first outlaws the regulated activity, except when the appropriate approval (ie. license, permit, etc) is held. This allows the government to conduct an initial eligibility assessment on the approval-applicant, to impose additional conditions within the approval document (eg. a license setting bag limits, prescribing the open season, etc) and to maintain a record of approvals issued and to whom they are issued [WA 5,12-22.1].

While the most commonly known type of authorization is a hunting license, there are many other forms unrelated to recreational hunting, these are set out in detail in the Wildlife Regulation. In addition to the numerous exemptions that it contains, Alberta's Wildlife Act and it's Wildlife Regulation tolerate a broad range of hunting, trapping and other depredation activities against wildlife, as long as the appropriate authorization is held.

After study, I have to say that the WA regime strikes me as an naive regulatory venture. It is quite divorced from any robust appreciation of both the cultural and physical context in which it's target activities occur. The extensive exceptions (according to Schedule 8 of the Wildlife Regulation there are 118 different license, permit and other authorizations alone, not to mention the many categorical exemptions through the Act and Regulation, esp Schedule 1 of the Regulation), reflect an entirely unwarranted enforcement optimism. Hunting, trapping and related activities must be policed in what is already one of the most regulation-unfriendly and far-flung physical environments. But then add in the pre-existing cultural resentful to (over-)regulation held by hunter, trappers and the like, and in my opinion you have a situation ripe to engender contempt for the whole regulatory venture.

This isn't to disparage the limited ostensible wildlife protection goals of the legislation, but rather to point out that in such a practical context, micro-management is unrealistic. To expect most hunters or trappers to know, and (even assuming willingness) to abide by it, is unrealistic.

(b) Terminology

As with BC's wildlife legislation, it is essential when applying Alberta's Wildlife Act that the particular meaning and references of it's key operative terms be appreciated. Terms which might have a consistent lay usage may have a quite different legal meaning.

These key terms, as least as they relate to groupings of animals, are defined as follows in lists in the Schedules (and their sub-Parts and Items) of the Wildlife Act's Wildlife Regulation [you will have to scroll down to reach the Schedules at the end] [W Reg 4(1)]:
  • big game - Part 1, Schedule 4

  • birds of prey - Part 2, Schedule 4

  • fur-bearing animals - Part 3, Schedule 4

  • migratory game birds - Item 1, Part 4, Schedule 4

  • upland game birds - Item 2 of Part 4 of Schedule 4

  • non-game animals - Part 5, Schedule 4

  • non-license animals - Part 6, Schedule 4

  • controlled animals (exotics) - Schedule 5

  • endangered animals - Part 1, Schedule 6

  • endangered invertebrates - Part 2, Schedule 6

  • endangered fish - Part 4, Schedule 6

  • 'subject animals that are not wildlife animals or controlled animals' - Schedule 7
Other key terms include:
  • Wildlife Management Units - Schedule 9

  • Sanctuaries - Schedule 11

  • Habitat Conseervation Areas - Part 1, Schedule 12

  • Migratory Bird Lure Sites - Part 2, Schedule 12

  • Wildlife Control Areas - Part 3, Schedule 12

  • Game Bird Limits - Schedule 13

  • Open Seasons - Schedule 14

2. Ownership and Possession of Wildlife

(a) Ownership

In a re-codification of the law of property as it relates to wildlife, the WA provides that the general rule is that all live wildlife vests in the province [WA 7(1)], subject the Crown transferring title to another by formal document [WA 9]. In that situation title of live wildlife covered by the transfer passes in accordance with the transfer, as does title to direct progeny from that wildlife born in captivity, through the generations [WA 7(2)]. This appears to be a provision particularly intended to facilitate the commercial establishment of 'farmed wildlife', such as fur farms.

Additionally, When farmed or captive wildlife escapes ("ceases to be held captive"), title reverts to the province, as does that of the animal's subsequent progeny [WA 7(3,4)].

(b) Possession

Possession of wildlife or a 'controlled animal' (roughly, exotic animals) without a permit is prohibited [WA 55].

Also prohibited is "possession of an animal that is not a 'subject animal' [all wildlife, controlled animals and some bison are subject animals: WA 1(1)] and that was imported into Alberta unless it was lawfully acquired in and lawfully exported from a jurisdiction outside Alberta" [WA 55(1-3)].

Persons possessing wildlife shall maintain records of them as set out in the Wildlife Regulation (Part 6) [WA 64(1), W Reg Part 6].

'Non-licence animals' [see Schedule 4, Part 6 of the W Reg (these are common animals and birds not desirable as game - eg. house sparrows, mice and rats)] other than raccoons, skunks or bats, may be possessed without permit - though these excepted animals may be temporarily possessed without a permit for purposes of relocation from a person's property [W Reg 135].

3. Wildlife Prohibitions and Protections

(a) Molesting or Destroying Houses, Nests or Dens

It is prohibited to "wilfully molest, disturb or destroy a house, nest or den [of the species and in the times of year set out in W Reg 96] or a beaver dam" [WA 36], except where done under specific license or authorization, or where done under the Agricultural Pests Act (see that module)]. However, the Minister may Order an owner of private land to 'remove' wildlife or, where a beaver, destroy beaver dam or house where causing or likely to cause damage [W Reg 97].

(b) Domestic and Other Owned Animals Interfering with Wildlife

Where a privately-owned animals (which can be domestic or wildlife-in-captivity, and can include strays) [WA 80, W Reg 141.2]:
  • is harassing wildlife, the wildlife "officer or guardian may order the owner or the person in charge of that animal to confine it" (this is excepted for lawful hunting with dogs);

  • "harasses or poses a threat to the life or health of wildlife" (other than in the course of lawful hunting with dogs) or "is damaging or is likely to damage wildlife habitat", a wildlife officer or guardian may "if it is in the public interest to do so and the officer or guardian believes that doing so will protect the wildlife or the habitat, capture or destroy or attempt to capture or destroy";

  • "pose an immediate danger to any person or is damaging or is imminently likely to damage property", a wildlife officer or guardian may "if it is in the public interest to do so and the officer or guardian believes that doing so will remove the danger or prevent the damage or further damage, capture or destroy or attempt to capture or destroy the animal".
(c) Diseased or Infested Wildlife

Where "the Minister believes on reasonable and probable grounds that any animal is diseased or materially infested by parasites and might present a danger to the life or health of any wildlife animal or endangered organism, or that any animal poses an ecological threat or genetic danger to wildlife or an endangered organism and that it is in the public interest to do so", they may quarantine or kill the animal [WA 79(1)].

4. Hunting

(a) Hunting Defined

For purposes of the Wildlife Act, “hunt” means to [WA 1(1)]:
  • shoot at, harass or worry,

  • chase, pursue, follow after or on the trail of, search for, flush, stalk or lie in wait for,

  • capture or wilfully injure or kill,

  • attempt to capture, injure or kill, or

  • assist another person in any of the above actvities while that other person is so hunting.
However an animal is not being hunted when the person is not carrying a weapon and their activity is "restricted to watching, photographing, drawing or painting a picture of the animal", or where they are seeking with humane methods to recapture a wildlife or controlled (exotic) animal that has escaped from a permitted premises (such as a zoo) [WA 1(2)].

This definition of hunting applies even where a person is hunting decoy animals set out by enforcement authorities for purposes of entrapment [WA 1(6)] (eg. moose silouettes).

(b) Hunting License Required

A hunting license is required to hunt except for [WA 24]:
  • 'hunting'-type activities conducted legally under the Agricultural Pests Act (see that module) (this is also an exception to the open season rules: WA 25);

  • non-commercial guiding;

  • when hunting 'non-licence animals'.
(c) General Hunting Provisions

The following WA provisions apply generally to hunting:
  • the Minister may set hunting open seasons, bag limits and hunting-permissible areas [WA 23];

  • hunting in a manner that endangers other persons, or without due regard for the safety of other persons is prohibited [WA 27];

  • hunting 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 before sunrise is prohibited [WA 28];

  • hunting "in a manner that causes or is likely to cause danger to livestock or to diversified livestock animals [these are explained in the Livestock Industry Diversification Act (LIDA) module, but amount to exotic farmed animals] or damage to property" is prohibited [WA 29];

  • hunting "while the person’s ability to hunt is impaired by alcohol or a drug" is prohibited [WA 30];

  • hunting with any of the items (includes listed poisons, explosive head arrows, illegally-gauged shotguns, etc) set out in Schedule 1, Item 1 of the WA is prohibited [Wildlife Act (you must scroll down to the Schedule at the end)] [WA 32], unless the setting out, use or possession is specifically authorized under a wildlife depredation or collections license, or the hunting is done under the Agricultural Pests Act (see that module). Other prohibitions apply under the same Schedule to big game [Item 2], game birds [Item 3], migratory game birds [Item 4] and fur-bearing animals [Item 5] [WA 40];

  • hunting activities (including harassing animals) from conveyances, as aircraft, vehicles, or boats are prohibited [WA 33];

  • hunting or discharging firearms on private lands without permission of the owner is prohibited [the land must be (1) either under cultivation or enclosed and cannot exceed one 'section' in size where the owner resides or (2) within one mile of this 'section' where it is owned or leased by the same owner or occupant] [WA 38];

  • hunting within wildlife sanctuaries of prohibited without authorization [WA 39];

  • shooting at big game when it is swimming is prohibited [WA 44];

  • hunting big game when accompanied by dogs or allowing them to pursue big game, except during the allowed season for hunting with dogs, is prohibited unless specifically authorized under a wildlife depredation or collections license, or if the hunting is done under the Agricultural Pests Act (see that module) [WA 45];

  • hunting bobcat, coyote or fox with the assistance of dogs is prohibited unless (for red fox and coyote only) done under the Agricultural Pests Act (see that module) [W Reg 115];

  • it is prohibited for persons to interfere with wildlife, lawful hunting or hunting preparatory activities, "with the intention of preventing or impeding the hunting" or "with the intention of dissuading that person from hunting or otherwise preventing the hunting or of preventing that person’s enjoyment of the outdoors" [WA 47(1-3)];

  • it is prohibited to, directly or indirectly, buy or sell, trade or barter or offer to buy or sell access to any land for the purpose of hunting any big game, fur‑bearing animals, game birds or upland game birds (permit exception for upland game birds on private land) on any land [WA 49(1-3)].

5. Trapping

(a) Overview

The activity of trapping is defined to mean to "capture, injure or kill animals of any kind, or attempt to do so, by means of the use of a trap". "Trap" as a noun means "a device, other than a weapon, designed and commonly used to capture, injure or kill animals of any kind" [WA 1(1)(hh)].

As such, the activity of trapping is a more specific form of 'hunting' [see 4(a) above], and falls under the general WA 24 requirement of being illegal without an appropriate license or other authorization [see 4(b) above].

(b) Fur-Bearing Animals

The following provisions apply to the trapping of fur-bearing animals [W Reg 107(1,2)]:
  • traps used to trap fur-bearing animals must be either killing devices, a "snare loop set to tighten on the leg of a fur‑bearing animal", or a trap "set to capture a live animal by holding it within a container";

  • leg‑hold traps to trap fur‑bearing animals or raccoon must be a killing device.
The above provisions do not apply to [W Reg 107(3,4)]:
  • foxes;

  • wolf, coyote, lynx, bobcat or raccoon with a leg‑hold traps that do not have jaws with teeth, hooks, claws, barbs or other projections, but rather have any of the following:

    • 2 steel parallel jaws that are at least 9 mm thick,

    • offset jaws that do not touch over their full length when closed on each other, or

    • jaws designed or modified to prevent any metallic surface from contacting the animal.
A person shall not use a leg‑hold trap to trap a fur‑bearing animal that is in a tree or on a pole unless the trap is a killing device [W Reg 108].

(c) Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)

Alberta has implemented Canada's obligations under the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) respecting trapping and trapping methods. AIHTS standards override anything else in the WA respecting traps used [W Reg 107.1].

6. Import/Export/Relocation

Importation to Alberta of live wildlife or controlled animals is prohibited without a permit, and exportation from Alberta of live wildlife is prohibited without a permit [WA 58-59, W Reg 69-71].

Also prohibited is "possession of an animal that is not a 'subject animal' [subject animals are are all wildlife, controlled animals and some bison: WA 1(1)] and that was imported into Alberta unless it was lawfully acquired in and lawfully exported from a jurisdiction outside Alberta" [WA 55(1-3)].

Release of a live wildlife or controlled animal from captivity is prohibited without permission of the Minister [WA 61(1)].

7. Trafficking in Wildlife

Trafficking in wildlife, as well as possession and hunting or wildlife for the purposes of trafficking, without a permit is generally prohibited [WA 35, 62(1,2)]. Additionally, a person who possesses a live controlled animal shall not traffic in that animal with a person who is not legally authorized to possess it [W Reg 140].

For these purposes, 'traffic' in wildlife is defined as [WA 1(1)] to "sell, buy, barter or trade, or offer to do so" or to "solicit, advertise, display or expose for sale, barter or trade or with a view to effecting a sale, barter or trade" [WA 1(1)].

8. Zoos

(a) Zoo Permits

Zoos are facilities that possess animals, typically for commercial purposes and sometimes as an aspect of a municipal recreation program. As such, without a permit of some sort operating a zoo would fall afoul of the WA's possession prohibitions respecting wildlife and 'controlled animals' (exotics) [WA 55]. Zoos holding such permits are referred to in the WA as 'permit premises' [W Reg 1(1)].

Zoo permits are available and authorize it's holder, on private land, to possess wildlife and controlled animals [W Reg 79]:
  • for the primary purpose of providing public viewing, and

  • to traffic in such animals with persons authorized by or under the Act to possess them.
With an application for (or renewal of) a zoo permit, the applicant must have approved by the Regional Head of Wildlife Management a written plan authorizing these activities [W Reg 78(1,3)].

(b) Zoo Standards

For zoo standards, the province has adopted (as themselves a Regulation) the portions of a provincially-produced “Government of Alberta Standards for Zoos in Alberta”, which is prepared by the Alberta Zoo Standards Committee [W Reg 76, 141.1(1)], or more specifically:
  • Section II, entitled “Standards Within the Mandate of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development ‑ the Wildlife Act and Regulations”,

  • Section IVA, Appendix 1 (other than Item 3 entitled “3. How the Application Will be Processed”), and

  • all definitions, except that of “accredited zoo”, contained in Appendix 4 in Section IVD.
(c) Miscellaneous

Persons possessing wildlife under a zoo permit shall maintain appropriate records of them, and file annual reports reflecting these records [WA 64(1), W Reg 149].

Note that where a wildlife or controlled animal escapes from a permitted facility, the owner or custodian shall make reasonable efforts to recapture it, and shall report the escape to a wildlife officer if the animal remains at large for 48 hours [WA 60(2)].

9. Species-at-Risk

Endangered animals are listed in Schedule 6 of the Wildlife Regulation (scroll down to find the Schedule).

The Minister-appointed 'Endangered Species Conservation Committee' advises the Minister on policies regarding endangered species, including the preparation of endangered species recovery plans. Recovery plans "may include population goals and identification of critical habitats and of strategies to enable populations to recover" [WA 6]. For more information see Alberta's Strategies for the Management of Species at Risk.

Generally though, the WA and the W Regs treat endangered species legally under the same rules that apply to 'non-game animals' (see Schedule 4, Part 5 in the Wildlife Regulation), other than raven [W Reg 7(1)]. Non-game animals are roughly what you would expect from that description, being animals for which there is no open season.

10. Human Health and Safety

Where "wildlife animals are being attracted by an attractant to a place" and where "the health or safety of any person is or may be threatened owing to their presence", wildlife authorities may order an owner or occupier of the place, other than a dwelling place, to "contain, move or remove the attractant or take such other action as is considered necessary to remove the threat" [WA 81.1].

11. Civil Liability

(a) Property Claims

The Crown (ie. Alberta) and "a person employed by the Crown in the Minister’s Department, a wildlife officer or a wildlife guardian" are immune from any civil cause of action respecting title to wildlife, alive or dead, for any act or omission [WA 11]:
  • done in good faith (ie. without malice) while exercising powers or performing duties under this Act,

  • done in good faith (ie. without malice) that causes injury to or the death of a stray, and

  • for death, personal injury or property damage caused by an animal.
.(b) Liability of Wildlife Officers, Wildlife Guardians and Persons Assisting

Wildlife officers and wildlife guardians, while exercising their right to enter lands in the performance of their duties, are only liable for wilful damage [WA 66(3)].

Wildlife officers and wildlife guardians are not liable for death or injury to a privately-owned animal for any actions undertaken pursuant to WA 80 (confinement or destruction of animal harassing, threatening or likely to damage wildlife) [WA 80(5)].

Persons assisting wildlife officers and wildlife guardians are afforded the same liability protections as them "while and to the extent that they are in the course of assisting the officer or guardian under the officer’s or guardian’s direction" [WA 3].

12. Enforcement

Day-to-day enforcement of the WA is conducted by appointed 'wildlife officers' ('WOs'), who are also peace officers [WA 65(1)]. RCMP, conservation officers, and forest officers are wildlife officers by virtue of those offices [WA 1.1-1.2]. 'Wildlife guardians' ('WGs'), who are also peace officers, may also be appointed [WA 2(1), 65(1)].

Both WOs and WGs have "primary responsibility of enforcing this Act" and have all powers necessary to the performance of their duties and to "any enforcement, investigation, administration or process under or relating to this Act or any directions, requirements, orders or prosecution or other legal proceeding under or relating to this Act" [WA 65(3)].

WOs and WGS have powers of entry to lands without warrant [WA 65(1)], and entry and search of premises without a warrant where "distance, urgency, the imminent danger of the loss, removal, destruction or disappearance of evidence or other relevant factors do not reasonably permit the obtaining of a warrant" [WA 71(1)].

Permit premises (eg. zoos) may be entered and inspected without a warrant (except where they are private dwellings) [WA 72(1)].

The WA has a broad offence provision for prosecution of violations [WA 86].

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Last modified: 16-11-20
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