Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Wolf Solution - Wolf Week Wrap-up

As my self-proclaimed Wolf Week here on my blog and on my Facebook photography page winds to a close, I wanted to thank all of you for your support and feedback and offer up some final words as potential solutions to the problems wolves face in Alberta, British Columbia, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

It saddens me that in today's more enlightened, environmentally-conscious society we still legally allow wolves to be snared, trapped, baited, called-in, chased, and shot with impunity across vast swaths of our wild regions (just last Wednesday, Montana's governor swore in a new bill continuing to allow wolf hunting on Yellowstone's border claiming that the new bill was supported by "sound science"). It's incredulous that two main lobby groups, sport hunters and ranchers, have wielded such power over the political process when it comes to wolf management (an oxymoron if ever there was one in the northwest!), creating this battleground that festers now between wolf lovers and wolf haters.

What does the future hold for our wild wolves?

I knew a week ago that I wanted to direct this Wolf Week series of blog and facebook posts towards an end goal: to get people like you to help demand change from our state and provincial wildlife managers and agencies in how our wild wolves are perceived, treated, and managed.

But before I get to that, I wanted to quickly recap the past week's posts for those of you that are just finding this for the first time:

On Day 1, Wolf Snares in my Backyard tackled a local problem here in the Rockies where Conservation Officers recently set out wolf snares intended to choke wolves (and anything else unfortunate enough to get ensnared -- including your family dog) to death on public crown land, effectively using our taxpayer dollars to fund a private business (a ranch) on public land because the business had complained about a small, neighbouring wolf pack (meanwhile, here in Canmore, I complained about having other photographers competing with me and so far not a single one of them has been snared by the government, go figure!).

On Day 2, A Wolf Kill Contest Update looked (once) again at the barbaric wolf kill contest in Fort St. John, B.C. that I covered back in November and December and noted that Pacific Wild, a British Columbia environmental organization headed by friends of mine, is threatening to challenge the contest's legality in court. [Thank you to everyone who donated to Pacific Wild's cause, if anyone would still like to donate, you can do so here -- I'd love to see even more of you match my donation of $250.  For Americans that would like to donate to a worthy cause in the U.S., please consider donating to WildEarth Guardians or to WolfWatcher.]

On Day 3, I stepped away from the bad news for a day and showed off some wild wolf pictures along with a few stories in a post entitled, My Favourite Wolves.

Day 4 was back to the issues at hand, as Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth took an in-depth look at the lies behind the cattle industry's blatant war on wolves across the northwest. The science and data all point to the same conclusion: wolves are not a threat to the livestock industry.

And finally, Day 5 was perhaps the most contentious post of the week, as Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf examined the slippery slope of half-truths and misrepresentations that the pro-wolf hunting lobby floats to the public to rationalize killing wolves to boost big game populations.

Why do we continue persecuting wolves when science shows they are not a threat?

I hope that these posts enlightened many of you to the real issues at hand here: that wolves are being unfairly persecuted across our provinces and states and that it's time we changed our wolf management policies.  As my posts have clearly shown, wild wolves are not a threat to human safety, to the livestock industry, or even to the sport hunting industry.  Rather than having our politicians ignore the science and continue to listen to the loudest lobby groups, I think we have a chance to effect real change with our own lobby group of wolf lovers, admirers, photographers, and biologists.

And while I would love to see an end to wolf trapping and hunting across the board from my own moral standpoint, I'm also not naive enough to think that will happen and nor do I think it needs to happen in regards to having sound scientific wolf management plans in place.  Rather, I want to aim for more feasible goals, beginning with no-hunting, no-trapping buffer zones set around all of our national parks like Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, Waterton, Glacier, and Yellowstone to not only protect wolves, but also to protect the burgeoning tourism industry in these areas.  It is estimated that Yellowstone's wolves alone bring in more than 35 million dollars to the local economies, so it only makes sense that if we're still going to have wolf management that protects the interests of ranchers and sport hunters, then we also need to even the playing field and protect the interests of businesses that host the millions of tourists that flock to these World Heritage Sites in the hopes of seeing wild wolves.

How big should these buffer zones be?  Well, let's put it this way: in 2012, Banff National Park protected 6,697 square kilometers (2,564 square miles) of the Canadian Rockies -- it's an enormous swath of wilderness that takes over an hour to drive across from east to west, and almost two hours to drive across from south to north.  Yet in 2012, Banff National Park was home to exactly two wild wolf packs that did not have to deal with the threats of trapping and hunting on the park's edges.  Just two secure packs!  In fact, add in all of Kootenay and Yoho national parks, too, and we're still left with just two secure packs.

[Editor's note: For a fantastic resource on what we need in terms of buffer zones (and a great wolf resource website, period), check out Just Beings Wolf Conservation.]

Our national parks in Canada and the U.S. are not large enough on their own for secure wolf habitat


Other changes I would also like to see in future wolf management plans include:

- making wolf kill contests illegal
- making wolf hunting from snowmobiles (in a chase) illegal
- making wolf hunting with baiting or calling illegal
- making wolf hunting tags mandatory
- limiting the authority of wildlife management agencies to kill wolves except in the case of verified livestock losses and/or broader programs aimed at threatened or endangered species recovery (e.g. a broader program for caribou recovery in Idaho, B.C., and Alberta might include a wolf cull of entire packs known to prey on caribou IF the program also included an extensive habitat recovery phase limiting ATV use, snowmobile use, oil and gas exploration, etc).

and

- significantly bolstering our livestock reimbursement programs in terms of both funding and personnel (so that claims are dealt with quickly, efficiently, and accurately and so that verified claims are fully reimbursed across the northwest).

So what do you think of my suggestions?  What did you think of Wolf Week? And what changes would you like to see in wolf management in B.C., Alberta, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana?  Please submit your Comments below to let me know.

Or better yet, why not submit your comments to the politicians in charge of our wolf management plans and ask for buffer zones around our national parks along with some of the other suggestions I mentioned above:

For British Columbians, you can email:

Honourable Steve Thomson—Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources

To: Steve.Thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca
CC: rich.coleman.mla@leg.bc.ca; terry.lake.mla@leg.bc.ca; sunletters@vancouversun.com; info@pacificwild.org, adrian.dix.mla@leg.bc.ca, info@wildernessprints.com

(be sure to include reference to the buffer zones, to government workers snaring wolves (Day 1 post), to the wolf kill contest (Day 2 post), and to strengthening the livestock reimbursement program)

For Albertans, you can email:

Honourable Diana McQueen -- Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

To: ESRD.Minister@gov.ab.ca
CC: vermilion.lloydminster@assembly.ab.ca, info@wildernessprints.com, office@albertaliberal.com, asyslak@cpaws.org

@DianaMcQueenMLA (twitter)

(be sure to include reference to the buffer zones, to the fact no tag is required to hunt wolves, to the value of wild wolves to tourism in Alberta, and to the strengthening of the livestock reimbursement program)

And for those of you in the U.S.:

Visit WolfWatcher's Take Action page to see what you can do right now to help Yellowstone's wolves (including phone numbers and emails for Montana's governor -- be sure to reference the value of wolves to tourism in Montana and the critical need for buffer zones).

That's it for now, everyone. Thank you again for all of your support. 

John

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf - Wolf Week - Day 5

For months now, since I called for a tourism boycott of the Alaska Highway in response to a wolf kill contest going on in Fort St. John, British Columbia, I've been getting emails from people in northern British Columbia telling me just how bad their wolf problem is. According to some locals, the problem has gotten so bad that the wolves are decimating herds of native moose, elk, sheep, caribou, and deer, threatening human safety, and killing large numbers of livestock.

Being a wildlife photographer with a university degree in Wildlife Management and a deep, personal interest in wolf biology and behaviour, I was suprised and saddened to hear that their perceived wolf problem had led many members of the community to get together and sponsor a wolf kill contest to eliminate as many wolves as they could.

Every time a wild wolf gets killed, disrupting the pack dynamics, it leads to a host of problems from a human perspective

But before I spoke out initially back in November, I decided that I should do some research to see if there were any facts backing up their wolf overpopulation claims. Despite my wildlife background and beliefs, I felt that it could still be possible that there were simply too many wolves in northern British Columbia and that they were indeed causing havoc with the communities, with the game populations, and with the ranchers.

I began with a quick check of the Draft Management Plan for the Gray Wolf in British Columbia and discovered that they did not have current numbers, beyond wide-ranging estimates, for the population or population trends of wolves in northern B.C.  So I moved on to a trusted secondary resource and checked with a few friends/outdoorsmen living in northern B.C. (and in particular, in the Peace Region where the wolf kill contest is being run) to get their thoughts on whether or not there is currently an overpopulation of wolves in the north.  Each of them confirmed to me that there are indeed lots of wolves in the north and that it's a very healthy population. 

As far as I was concerned, that confirmed the first part of the northerners' plea: that there are lots of wolves in northern B.C.  The second part, however, the part that makes up the gist of their arguments in favour of indiscriminately killing wolves (as many as they can), is where their 'wolf problem' cries began to fall apart for me.

When I examined their arguments for going as far as offering up prizes for the biggest and smallest wolf killed in a much-publicized wolf kill contest, I began to find gaping holes in their logic.  There was no statistical evidence, there was no scientific argument, and worse yet, there was no ethical or moral stance behind the blatant need to kill more wolves.

Their first argument for killing wolves was that wolves up there are killing too much livestock.  As you read yesterday in Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth, that was an easy one to discredit. That's not to say that there aren't problem wolves up there killing some livestock, but as I'll explain later in this post, killing random wolves actually exacerbates the problem, it doesn't solve it.

[Editor's note: I believe that if wolf kills of livestock are verified on private land repeatedly, then the wolf pack should be targeted and removed entirely and the rancher should be fully compensated for his/her losses. However, if it's on public land, I believe the rancher should be fully reimbursed but that the pack should be left alone -- consider it to be the cost of doing business on public land]

The second argument put forth was that human safety is compromised with so many wolves on the prowl around their communities.  So I did an extensive search online for wolf attacks on humans in northern British Columbia and could not find one single verified report of an attack.  The statistical truth is that there have only been two fatal wolf attacks in North America in the past one hundred years.  There have not been any fatalities from a wolf attack in British Columbia over that period -- not a single fatality in the past century.

The third argument is perhaps the most sensitive of all, as it deals with one of the most prominent lobby groups in the country: sport hunters.  That argument is that the perceived "overpopulation" of wolves has lowered ungulate populations across the board in the north, killing too many moose, deer, elk, caribou, and sheep, effectively making it harder for said game hunters to find and kill meat for their kitchen tables.

However, even this argument is fairly easy to disprove on several counts.  For starters, wolves are an apex predator, which means they occupy the top rung of the food chain in most wilderness areas and share that spot with humans.  Countless wolf literature shows that wild wolves regulate their own population numbers, so if their prey base is shrinking, then so too does their own population.  As a rough example, in an area rich with prey, a wolf pack will likely have lots of pups, many of which survive to adulthood.  By contrast, in an area scarce with prey, a wolf pack may only have a few pups and may not see any reach adulthood.

Do wolves kill too much big game in the north?

So let's ask that question again: do wolves kill too much big game in the north?  From a biological perspective, as I've just explained, that isn't possible beyond a natural cyclical series of highs and lows (moose populations go down after wolf predation, then rebound when wolf numbers go down in response to the lower moose numbers, then the cycle repeats itself).

If wolves really were capable of depleting moose and elk and deer populations so readily, then why don't we see that effect in our national parks in Canada?  Why can I still drive down the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff and see deer and sheep and moose on a daily basis? Why haven't the wolves killed them all and why aren't there wolves everywhere?  Why are there even any moose and deer and so on left on earth if wolves are so capable of killing too many of them? 

For a real answer as to what's going on, let's turn to the WildEarth Guardian document I shared with all of you in yesterday's post, Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure -- How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America.

They asked the same question about elk in Montana:

"Do wolves kill too many elk? 

No, despite the claims of some sportsmen’s organizations. Human hunters have much greater negative effects on elk populations than wolves, according to a host of biologists, who published their findings in peer-reviewed science journals.

In fact, the level of human off-take of elk populations is considered “super additive” – that is, human-hunting pressures on elk far exceed the levels of mortality that would otherwise occur naturally. Further, human hunters generally kill prime-age, breeding animals, whereas wolves prey upon older, non-breeding elk. Wolves do hold elk populations at levels that mediate starvation, weather, and other stochastic events."

Again, the science simply does not back up the claim that "too many wolves" is leading to "too few ungulates."

So why then does British Columbia (and Alberta) allow an open season on hunting for wolves.  Why are things like this wolf kill contest legal?  Why are there not buffer zones around our parks so that wolf families can grow and stay intact?  And why are our governments listening to two bipartisan lobby groups when neither has a real argument in favour of indiscriminately killing random wolves.

Here's the real kicker.  Every time a wolf hunter goes out and randomly kills an alpha wolf, like Wolf #832F in Yellowstone, thinking that they have just lowered the wolf population by one, what they've actually done is potentially increased it ten-fold.  In the case of the Lamar Valley pack that Wolf #832F was a leading member of, that family has now disintegrated and the adult wolves have all dispersed/disbanded...seven different females and one male; all could potentially find mates and have pups this spring.  So within a few months, the hunter that shot #832F could actually find not just one pack of wolves on the landscape, but EIGHT different packs!

Every time a wolf hunter kills a random wolf in a pack, they risk disrupting the social structure of a pack that may have lived in harmony with livestock and with game populations.  They risk throwing that family of wolves into a state of flux -- suddenly a wolf family that only preyed on moose may have lost one of its best hunters, so they turn to easier prey and begin targeting livestock.

So when will we figure this out?  Killing wolves for sport is not acceptable anymore.  It does not do any good, it does not breed tolerance or acceptance of wolves among wolf hunters.

Simply put, hunting and the big bad wolf no longer belong in the same sentence.  There is no big bad wolf, and they should not be hunted indiscriminately any longer.

John

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth - Wolf Week - Day 4

Here it is.  Are you ready for it?

Indiscriminately killing wolves to control wolf predation on livestock is completely useless.  

There, I said it.  The truth has finally been revealed!  Now let's put an immediate end to wolf culls, wolf kill contests, and the idiocy that accompanies so much of what's currently going on with wolf 'management' in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming and get back to letting nature take care of things herself.  Deal?

Ahhh, if only it were that easy.  The saddest part of the words above is that that second sentence is 100% accurate and has been proven to be true time and time again by scientists and wolf biologists. 

But rather than use science, our provincial and state governments have decided to let politics rule the day and we're left dealing with the mess we currently see in northern British Columbia ("there are wolves everywhere" so let's see who can shoot the biggest one and the smallest one and we'll hand out a bunch of prizes like pack of rabid baboons -- my apologies to baboons for using this reference), in southwestern Alberta (where you can shoot a wolf at any time for any reason if you happen to know someone that owns a cow -- more about this later on), and throughout Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (in what has to be the most brazen, publicized, vehement attack on wolves this continent has seen in the past fifty years).

Studies have repeatedly shown that indiscriminately killing wolves to control predation on livestock does not work


Brad Hill, the professional wildlife photographer from British Columbia that I mentioned in my Wolf Snares in the Backyard post on Day 1 of Wolf Week, and Carl Marshall, an amateur wildlife photographer from Kentucky, alerted me to two great articles/documents in the past 24 hours that really shed light on the perceived problem (that wolves kill cattle by the thousands) and on the real problem (that many ranchers harbour an inordinate amount of hatred for wolves and use their oversized political power to pressure governments into maintaining/enacting legislation that's barbaric and outdated) when dealing with the issue of wolf predation on livestock.

The first, an article in The Wildlife News called "What real public information about wolves looks like," contains a copy of a talk that Norman Bishop, a (retired) National Park Ranger for 36 years in Yellowstone National Park, gave in Bozeman, Montana on February 11th.  In it, Bishop immediately put the science behind three key loggerhead issues with wolves on the table, including livestock predation (and while he cites scientific facts from Montana, I think most of you can easily see how it relates to the rest of the provinces and states involved in wolf management in the northwest).

Bishop had this to say about livestock predation (his talk included fully-referenced footnotes that he provided publicly to back up his numbers):

"About 2.6 million cattle, including calves, live in Montana... Western Montana, where most wolves live, has fewer cattle than the east side of the state. As of 2009, there were 494,100 cattle there. Seventy-four of these animals were killed by wolves, or less than 0.015 percent of the western Montana cattle population."

He followed soon after with wolf kill statistics, noting that "64 wolves were killed in response, [with another] 166...taken in the 2011 hunt."  Then he noted that there is a fully functioning wolf compensation program in place to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves.

His conclusion from science-based numbers in Montana is that while the loss of a "teenager’s 4H calf or a small operator’s animals [may be] devastating," the livestock industry is not at risk from wolf predation.

The second document I took note of yesterday was one written by Wendy Keefover for WildEarth Guardians (thank you to Wendy and Lori Colt for allowing me to post this document in its entirety) entitled Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure -- How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America (also fully-referenced).

This document starts off immediately providing answers to frequently asked questions about Northern Rockies wolves, such as, do wolves kill vast numbers of livestock?  The answer is shocking only in that it clearly reveals just how insignificant the threat of wolf predation is to the livestock industry:

"No. This constant complaint by the livestock industry is without merit. Wolves have killed less than one percent of the cattle or sheep inventories in the Northern Rockies. Even in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming where most wolves live (and before the commencement of wolf hunting in 2011-2012) and even using unverified livestock loss data (that is, numbers that are based upon livestock growers’ uninvestigated complaints), wolves killed less than one percent of the cattle (0.07 percent) and sheep (0.22 percent) inventories in those states. Verified livestock losses are even lower.

These livestock loss numbers mirror the national average where all other carnivores (i.e., coyotes, cougars, bears and domestic dogs) killed less than 0.5 percent of the (2010) cattle and (2009) sheep inventory in the entire United States. The biggest source of mortality to livestock actually comes from disease, illness, birthing problems and weather, but not from native carnivores such as wolves."

So the state response to numbers like these (0.07 percent means that 7 in every 10,000 cattle was reported to be killed by wolves and the verified numbers were even lower) was a bit shocking:  if you can stomach this, a whopping 62,000 tags were sold for wolf hunting and trapping in Idaho and Montana alone for the 2011-12 season.  By contrast, there were only estimated to be 1271 wolves in those states at the end of 2010!

Will there come a day when wolves can roam freely outside our national parks without fear of persecution?


A large part of this hatred is bred from the livestock industry.  Returning to Canada for a moment, we are still dealing with the aftermath of this ridiculous Wolf Kill Contest in the Fort St. John area in northern British Columbia.  Almost everyone on the side of the hunters up there said the exact same four things (which I'm sure are the exact same nonsensical things that wolf haters in Montana and Alberta and so on are saying):

1. we need to kill the wolves because there are way too many of them
- wolves are self-regulating animals at the top of the food chain. They regulate their own populations based on the available food supply.

2. we need to kill the wolves because our ranchers are losing hundreds/thousands of cattle to them
- a Vancouver Sun article (October 1, 2012) exposed how ridiculous some of the cattle industry's claims are/were (Kevin Boon of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association claimed the losses to wolf predation totaled $15 million dollars a year!). Another Sun article has ranchers in B.C. claiming they lose 10% of their cattle to predation, yet the wolf compensation program for the province could only verify a total of 133 wolf-predation losses out of hundreds of thousands of cattle.

3. we need to kill the wolves because they're killing all our big game (moose, deer, etc)
 - stay tuned tomorrow and I'll debunk that myth, too.

4. this is none of your business, you live in a city and have no idea how it is in the north (aka, rural living)
- I live in a town on the edge of the wilderness in the midst of wolves.  But even if I did live in a city, how exactly does that give me less say when it comes to our shared natural resources?

Meanwhile, here in Alberta, ranchers get to run and gun under the radar thanks to some archaic wolf management policies from our 22 year-old Wolf Management Plan.  Did you know that if you have livestock on public land in Alberta that you can shoot wolves on sight at any time of year, young or old.  Worse yet, you can bring on hired guns to shoot wolves at any time of year, young or old...ON PUBLIC LANDS.  What is wrong with this picture?!! 

So what can we do about all of this?  How do we enact change in B.C., Alberta, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming when the facts clearly show that livestock predation is not an issue and that it is not a valid reason for the widespread wolf persecution that we're currently seeing?

First and foremost, we need to continue to band together via social media networks and online, growing our collective voice in order to increase our ability to put pressure on the political parties at the helm.  In British Columbia in particular, the wolf issue, and the issue of wildlife management in general, may play a huge role in who gets voted in come this spring's provincial election. The NDP party is the only one that has thus far indicated an interest in reviewing the province's Wolf Management Plan and they are also the only ones who've indicated a serious interest in revamping wildlife management as a whole.

Second, we need to support groups (both financially and emotionally) that are fighting on behalf of wild wolves in the northwest, like Pacific Wild in British Columbia and WildEarth Guardians or WolfWatcher in the States (and please let me know if there are other groups you would like to see mentioned here).

And finally, we need to begin educating our youth to the realities (and joys) of having wild wolves on the landscape (I'll have more about this tomorrow).  They are not the natural-born killers Hollywood portrays them to be, rather, they are complex, social animals that deserve our admiration and respect.

Thank you everyone for your efforts and support, please feel free to leave your Comments below as I would love to hear your feedback.

Sincerely,

John

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wolf Week Contest!

As part of Day 3 of Wolf Week here on my blog and on my Facebook fan page for John E. Marriott Wildlife and Nature Photography, I've decided to have my first contest of the week!

Today's contest is easy as pie, just submit a comment below (along with a way to contact you if you win) or on the Facebook post and you'll automatically be entered to win a set of 36 of my wolf greeting cards, 12 of each card, from over on my Wilderness Moments greeting card site (a $125 value including shipping):

Leader of the Pack - Gray Wolf - Card WM032


"Spirit" the Wolf - Card WM047

"Delinda" - Card WM050

The contest is open until this Friday at 5 pm M.S.T. at which point I'll divulge the winner.  Good luck!

John

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My Favourite Wolves - Wolf Week - Day 3

I'm starting off Day 3 of Wolf Week without all the drama and bad news of Day 1's wolf snare story and Day 2's wolf kill contest update, and will instead be spending today talking about the many wolves I have gotten to know over the years and what they meant to me.

I'll begin with a montage of some of my favourite wolves, including in the center the two matriarchs of the Bow Valley wolf pack in my career, Faith (top middle) and Delinda (bottom middle).  Please click on the photo for a full-screen shot and enjoy!

Click to see the image full-screen - Wolf photos of many of my favourite wolves over the years!

I'd love to know what you think of the photo montage in the Comments below.  Thanks!

And if you'd like to learn more about Delinda and see pictures from the past, please feel free to check out my Storybook Photo Gallery and read A Walk on the Wild (Wolf) Side with Delinda.  You can also see her photograph on the cover of the December 2009 issue of Canadian Geographic, one of the most award-winning covers in the history of the magazine!

Happy viewing,

John

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Wolf Kill Contest Update - Wolf Week - Day 2

When you feign ignorance, sometimes you get to hear the most interesting of stories. Like of how hunters kill wild wolves.  Over the years traveling much of Canada, I have heard some real doozies, like of the time the guy in the Yukon told me how he chased a black wolf down with his snowmobile, then ran it over to kill it.  It didn't die right away, so he ran it over some more.

It's appalling to me that here in Canada, a supposedly educated country that many would think ranks among the leaders in environmental protection, we find it perfectly acceptable to chase wolves to exhaustion with snowmobiles.  In fact, not only is it legal in most of the country, but so is killing wolves by choking them to death with wolf snares (yesterday's blog post) or letting them suffer through endless nights in an archaic leg-hold trap. You can also take potshots at them along the road (not quite as legal, but it doesn't long in a group of wolf haters to start hearing the stories come out) and use wolf pup distress soundtracks or the calls of wounded rabbits to bring wolves in so they can be gunned down.

So why is it that we sit around and tolerate this kind of behaviour here in Canada and in the U.S. (where the once-slaughtered, then federally protected, now slaughtered-once-again wolf is under fire from all angles in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho).   Why do we allow such barbaric practices like the Wolf Kill Contest in northern British Columbia to happen without making a big, BIG stink over it?

What future awaits wild wolves like this one?  A leg-hold trap or a safe, protected zone for its family?

Well, that's about to change (see below for what you can do to help).

Back in November when I first started reporting on the Fort St. John wolf kill contest, the Vancouver Sun published a series of articles on the contest that were picked up by media across the nation. One of those articles talked about the legality of the contest and noted that the environmental organization, Pacific Wild, had decided to look into whether or not the contest was legal.  Days later, the provincial government was still sticking to its guns, claiming that the contest was legal and did not require a gambling permit (or a moral conscience, apparently).

So Pacific Wild, founded by noted Canadian environmental pioneers Ian and Karen McAllister, decided to take matters into their own hands.  They sought legal advice.  They concluded that the contest is indeed illegal and violates a number of sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. The Liberal government in BC continues to disagree with the opinions of Pacific Wild's legal counsel, so Pacific Wild has decided to up their challenge on the matter and pursue further legal action.

If your blood is still boiling over this and you want to help out, here's what you can do:

1. consider donating to Pacific Wild.  In my opinion, they are one of Canada's foremost environmental organizations and I personally donated $250 to them at the start of January to help with this fight and other important battles they are waging at present (you can view Pacific Wild's wolf contest press release here and view comments from Pacific Wild's legal representation here).

2. you can Take Action on Pacific Wild's website and write a letter to the provincial government departments involved.  Pacific Wild has even crafted a sample email, click here to voice your opposition to the illegal wolf kill contest. My only suggestion with this sample email is that you add in a few sentences of your own at the start so the government can't write them all off as 'form letters', which they seem keen to do.

[if the link isn't working for the sample email, then copy and paste the following into your email program:]

rich.coleman.mla@leg.bc.ca; terry.lake.mla@leg.bc.ca; Steve.Thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca; sunletters@vancouversun.com; info@pacificwild.org, adrian.dix.mla@leg.bc.ca

Please stop the illegal wolf kill contest immediately!
Honourable Rich Coleman
Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources
(Minister responsible for B.C. gaming)


cc.
Honourable Terry Lake—Minister of Environment
Honourable Steve Thomson—Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources

Dear Minister Coleman,

I am writing to express my concern that an illegal wolf-kill contest is currently being supported by the British Columbia government when it appears to be in violation of section 206 and 207 of the Criminal Code of Canada. 
In addition to the criminal nature of this contest, I am also concerned about a wildlife management policy that allows prize money to be awarded for an unlimited, open-season killing of a species without mandatory reporting, inspection and no requirement for a specific license.   
I believe that the provincial government is undermining its ability to manage wildlife when it encourages unregulated financial incentives to encourage the killing of wolves, a highly social and intelligent animal.

I look forward to your response,

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
[Your Title]

3. 'CC' the NDP in on your email if you do send one: Adrian.Dix.MLA@leg.bc.ca They're most likely going to be the next government in British Columbia, and they have already shown more willingness to work with Pacific Wild on this issue and to develop a true management strategy for wolves in B.C. based on science and responsible wildlife management. If you oppose this wolf kill contest, then be sure to let them know.

I think together we can help put an end to wolf killing practices like this contest, and hopefully start to impact wolf management decisions that lead to the abolishment of wolf trapping using leg-hold traps and snares, as well as wolf hunting with snowmobiles, bait, and calls.

Thank you everyone for your support and stay tuned for more wolf news tomorrow on Day 3 of my Wolf Week.

Sincerely,

John

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Wolf Snares in the Backyard - Wolf Week - Day 1

Imagine walking along a trail near your house on a beautiful sunny day, your lovely dog racing along beside you darting in and out of every little trail having the time of its life.  A dog being a dog. A perfect day!

Now imagine being out on that walk and, suddenly, all goes quiet except for a muted rustling in the bushes to your left.  Your dog has vanished, and you sense that something isn't right.  During a frenzied, panicked search, you discover your dog choking to death ensnared in a wire wrenched so tightly around its' neck that you can't even get a finger in there. 

Within minutes, your beautiful family dog is dead, all because some friggin' idiot put a wolf snare on YOUR backyard trails.

Sound too far-fetched to be true?

Wildlife photographer and conservation advocate Brad Hill came across wolf snares in his 'backyard' in the Columbia Valley in British Columbia while walking his dogs this weekend (thankfully his dogs are fine), and he's rightfully furious that no one warned him they where there.

He was just as mad that someone had put it upon themselves to 'manage' wolf numbers near his house, so he made a few calls and discovered that the ones placing the snares were actually paid government workers, Conservation Officers (COs) with British Columbia Fish & Wildlife.  Further digging revealed that these COs had set the snares to remove a pack of 6 wolves that had been preying on cattle (or so they suspected) on public land.

So basically, in a nutshell, British Columbia taxpayers are paying for their government employees to go out and choke wolves to death, uh, pardon me, to snare wolves in what's considered to be a perfectly acceptable manner so that the wolves won't (potentially) prey on cattle that are being run on public land.  To break that down even further, taxpayers are paying for government workers to remove wild wolves doing what they do naturally in the public wilderness owned by all Canadians so that a private business (the rancher) can increase its earning potential while using public land for free.

Want to learn just how ridiculous this situation really is?  Then check out Brad's full post, Wolf Snares in my Backyard - an Ethical Dilemma.

Now back to those snares.

Is choking a wolf to death humane?  Is that the fate awaiting this beautiful gray wolf in B.C.'s Columbia Valley?

I got to photograph this wolf above on a chance encounter north of Radium in British Columbia's Columbia Valley just this past November.  I am sickened to learn that it may now fall victim to a wolf snare just because some rancher can't look after his cattle on the range (I'm sorry, but if you plan on letting your cattle out onto public lands to graze all summer long without any supervision or husbandry, then losing cattle to bears, wolves, cougars, or anything else should just be the cost of doing business). 

I'm beyond frustrated that we continue to persecute wolves without letting science do the talking. Conservation Officers should know better.  They go to school and are supposed to learn a bit about wildlife biology, and they should know, as Brad says on his blog, that "one way to GUARANTEE that wolves will turn toward livestock is to kill about half a pack - not only are you likely to take out some of the more experienced animals that teach the younger ones how to kill natural prey (like the elk and deer that abound in this area), but you're also making it unlikely that they will even be able to take down grown elk (and thus can be forced to go after "easier" prey, like livestock)."

It is not rocket science, yet we continue to stand around and let our governments sneak around behind our backs doing things like this.  Wolf snares should be outlawed immediately. They can and do ensnare family pets like dogs, as well as a host of wild creatures like coyotes and deer.

I'm not going to beat around the bush on this one, someone, anyone, needs to go down there (the GPS coordinates from Brad's picture of one of the snares are 50,11.2403N, 115,53.8594W on the Findlay-Dutch road north of Radium -- you can find more details on Brad's blog) and see those snares for themselves. If you happen to take along some wire-cutters, so be it. 

One of the wolf neck snares along the Findlay-Dutch - (c) Brad Hill

I have decided to officially name this Wolf Week here on my nature photography blog and Facebook fan page, so starting today and continuing all week long, you're going to get full updates on a host of storylines associated with wolves in BC, Alberta, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, including an update on the Wolf Kill Contest situation in northern British Columbia.

Thanks everyone for your interest,

John

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Monday, February 4, 2013

One Day in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park.  It is the holy grail of wildlife photography in North America. Our Serengeti, if you will.

And so it should come as no surprise to all of you to know that I have been avoiding Yellowstone like the plague for the past twenty years.

Uh, say WHAT?!?

That's right, for the past twenty years, John E. Marriott has been avoiding the single best place in North America to take wildlife pictures.  Sounds like a brilliant career move, right?  Why bother going somewhere that has bison grazing like cattle, wild grizzlies around every corner, and a plethora of other drool-worthy beasts ranging from badgers to beavers to black bears?

The truth is, I'm not that big on crowds, and Yellowstone has them in spades.  That's not to say you can't get off the trails and get away from it all, because you can, it's just that there are always gobs of people driving and wandering about in Yellowstone.  And a lot of them are wildlife photographers.  Couple that with the fact that I only shoot in groups on my photo tours and workshops and you begin to get an inkling for why I favour Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan over Yellowstone much of the time.

The other key factor in my Yellowstone-avoidance plan over the past two decades lies in the direction that I decided to take my career in when I started off.  I figured there were heaps of people photographing Africa and Yellowstone and Antarctica, but not that many concentrating solely on Canada.  So that was the niche I decided to exploit, photographing from Baffin Island to Banff, from coast to coast to coast across the country.

However, every once in a while, I sneak off to Yellowstone without telling anyone (my last trip there was a 7-day backpack in 2003) and grab a few pics for the family albums.

Ten days ago, my wife came into my office and told me she had to take the rest of her 2012 vacation days before the end of January.  That left us with six days to 'go somewhere', so by the next day the car was loaded and we were US-bound!  Since it was supposed to be a 'vacation' and not a John-gets-to-shoot-from-dawn-to-dusk-every-day sorta vacation, we made a compromise.  The first few days would be spent exploring a place we'd both always wanted to go, Jackson Hole in Wyoming (very high marks from both of us, we loved it!), while the last day and a bit would be spent photographing in Yellowstone.

And so, without further adieu, I present to you images from our 'One Day in Yellowstone' on January 28th, 2013.

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Bison bulls on the Blacktail Plateau, Yellowstone National Park

Bison are everywhere in Yellowstone, particularly in the winter when they're concentrated in the nothern part of the park.  It's basically impossible to drive through without scoring some great images of bison doing something or other -- even just laying there.

Two younger bison bulls get rowdy and fight in the Lamar Valley

Snow-draped bison bull in Yellowstone National Park

Not to be messed with!

Other ungulates like deer, elk, and pronghorn are not quite as plentiful as bison are, but they're still easy to find, particularly near the northwest entrance by Gardiner.

A pronghorn antelope doe

But the real winter treasure to be found in Yellowstone is their wild wolves, which have flourished since being relocated from Canada in 1994.  Unfortunately, this winter both Wyoming and Montana had open seasons on wolves and Yellowstone's wolves were decimated, particularly the packs that most tourists get to observe in the Lamar Valley and in the northern reaches of the parks.

We spent the night before our 'One Day in Yellowstone' reading all about the heart-wrenching stories of well-known wolves that had been mowed down along the park's borders this winter by hunters that seemed to specifically target park wolves.

The reports left me feeling mad above all else and really made me appreciate the fact that many of the wolves I photograph in the Canadian Rockies do not stray outside of our park boundaries and are thus not exposed to the dangers of hunting and trapping. However, the packs that I photograph in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. face the exact same dangers as these Yellowstone wolves now do. Because our national parks do not have buffer zones around them protecting the wildlife from hunters and trappers, much of our trans-boundary wildlife is in constant flux.  For instance, trappers have removed 5 wolves already (almost an entire pack) from Banff's northeast edge this winter (stay tuned for a lot more news about wolves in the coming weeks and about how you can help with putting an end to 'cross-border shopping', where wolf and bear hunters can shoot unsuspecting wildlife right on our parks' boundaries).

In the days leading up to our visit, I'd noticed online that there were still a few packs of wolves being seen in Yellowstone almost daily, so we put the bad news aside and hoped for the best.

An hour into the park, we found our first wolves.  Tiny, distant black specks on a far-off ridge.  Worse yet, there were hundreds of people lining the road hoping to catch a glimpse or a photograph of them!

We left immediately and were rewarded a few hours later with a spectacular sighting of a pack that's not as commonly seen in the park, the Blacktail wolf family, which currently has three gray wolves, including two with radio collars.





Several cars got to see one of the collared alphas as she howled to the other two that had disappeared across the road, and then, about twenty minutes later, with a bit of detective sleuth work, my wife and I were able to find the one uncollared member of the family, who proceeded to really put on a show for us as it walked along the road and dipped in and out of the sage flats.

Gray wolf from the Blacktail wolf family

A beautiful gray wolf from the Blacktail wolf pack pauses in the sage

The same gray wolf eyes me curiously

It was a remarkable experience getting to be so close to a Yellowstone wolf and feeling the same thrills I get when I'm lucky enough to view and photograph wild wolves here in the Canadian Rockies.  And it seemed that much 'cooler' knowing that these wolves are descendants of the same Jasper wolves that I'll be trying to find this week on my Jasper wildlife photography workshop.

So while it was just 'One Day in Yellowstone', it was really 'One GREAT Day in Yellowstone'.

Happy shooting everyone and stay tuned to my Facebook page for Jasper updates this week!

John

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Canon 500mm f4 II pre-review

Today I went out and dropped a few thousand dollars on a big lens.  And despite all the hullabaloo over my two-part hands-on review of both the Canon 400mm f2.8 II and the Canon 600mm f4 II that I took for extensive test drives in December and January, I did not get either.  Instead, I once again opted for my ol' reliable, another 500 -- now the third 500mm lens I have owned in my career as a wildlife photographer.

The Canon 500mm f4 II supertelephoto lens is the newest addition to my camera bag


So what made me go with the known, the Canon 500mm f4 II, vs the unknown, the sexy 400 or 600?  Why did I go back to Old Faithful? 

Well if any of you can recall from that first review back in December, I mentioned that I had been hoping to test the 400 vs the 500 vs the 600, but had been relegated to just the 400 and 600 because there just weren't any 500mm lenses available in North America at the time.  In fact, it looked like there might not be any available here for months.  However, that all changed on Saturday when I got an email from a friend in Vancouver who said she just got her new Canon 500mm f4 II last week...ten seconds later I was on the phone to Calgary to The Camera Store learning that there WAS a 500mm that had just come in. 

So today I whizzed off to the big city to go check out the new 500 and compare it to the 400 and 600.  The deal was, I had told myself I was not leaving that store without at least one of the new lenses in tow. 

And in the end, there were two things that swayed me back over to getting another 500mm lens.  The first was that I was convinced that if I purchased the 600mm f4 II, I'd also end up getting the 400mm f2.8.  The end result?  $21K of glass and a heck of a lot of nightmares trying to figure out how to travel with both big lenses (I still don't know how all of you that carry Nikon 600mm's and 200-400mm's do it). 

The second key factor was the extra weight savings over the 600.  The 500mm is not only about 10 inches shorter when compared to the 600 (with hoods on), but it's also over 2 pounds lighter (almost a full kilo).  Like I said back in that original review, size and weight are a serious issue for me, as I like to travel light and I love to be able to hike with my big lens.

So the bottom line is that I now own a brand new Canon 500mm f4 II supertelephoto lens.  I may still decide to switch to the 600 at a later date, but for now, this choice saves me some major $$, a few pounds, and a lot of travel packing nightmares.

Stay tuned in the following weeks for a full review of the 500, and until then, I'm off to Jasper for my annual winter Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop.

Wish me luck,

John

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Canon Super Telephotos - A Second Look

Way back in December, I had the pleasure of getting to test drive two of Canon's behemoth super telephoto lenses: the Canon 400mm f2.8 II and the Canon 600mm f4 II.  My initial findings were more favourable towards the 600mm, but I left off that review boasting that I had just opened a shiny new box with another 400mm to test (in the hopes that it was a sharper copy of the lens and would give me a more accurate read on the 400mm when compared to the 600mm) and that I'd get back to all of you with the results of said tests after the holidays.

Battle of the Behemoths -- the Canon 400mm f2.8 II vs the Canon 600mm f4 II

Well, guess what?  It's WAAAAY past the holidays and I've long since returned that second sexy 400mm to Canon Canada (a few tears may have been shed).

So what did I buy?  Which lens did I like best?  Did I re-mortgage my house and get both?   And will the Canucks win the Cup this year? [Editor's Note: Neither yet, the 600, no but I might still, and YES]

This time around, I got to put the 400mm f.28 II into some serious action, as I lucked out on finding a bull moose and some mountain goats that were willing to pose repeatedly for me.

Canon EOS 5D III w/ 400mm lens at ISO 800, 1/400th, f5 (hand-held)

With the moose, I found it incredibly easy to just grab the 400mm lens and 'go', hiking out to where the bull moose was browsing on willows. Sans tripod, I had no problem getting sharp shots from 1/320th to 1/500th of a second with a variety of apertures.

Unprocessed, unsharpened jpg of a 100% crop of the vertical image above.

Similarly, with the mountain goats, the sharpness was superb from f2.8 all the way to f10 while shooting without teleconverters, both hand-held, off a beanbag, and off a tripod.

Canon EOS 5D III w/ 400mm at ISO 800, 1/1000th at f8

Unprocessed, slightly sharpened jpg of a 100% crop of the horizontal image above

As a result of my testing, I was happy to conclude this time around that the 400mm f2.8 II lens was just as sharp as the 600mm lens I had tested before Christmas.

However, with teleconverters on, things got a little more 'iffy' as far as the 400mm lens was concerned.  While I had hoped again that it would shine with them on and that I'd at least be able to get sharp, useable shots with the 1.4x TC at f4 or f4.5 and the 2x TC at f5.6 or 6.3, I found that neither TC was as sharp on the 400 2.8 as they were on the 600 f4.

That's not to say that I didn't get sharp shots with either TC, because I did.  Unfortunately, they just weren't as consistently sharp as the 600mm lens with teleconverters was and they still weren't quite as crisp:

Canon 400mm f2.8 II lens w/ a 1.4x III TC, 1/3200th at f4 -- a 'sharp' shot, not perfect, but very useable


Canon 400mm f2.8 II lens w/ a 1.4x III TC, 1/3200th at f4 -- a more typical shot, not very sharp at all and unuseable

At f4.5 with the 1.4x TC, things got sharper, but I still wasn't impressed with the rate of sharp vs unsharp shots

At f5.6 with the 2X TC, acceptable results, but not as sharp as the 600 with the 1.4X TC

Slightly sharper at f6.3, but again, not as sharp as the 600mm is with the 1.4x TC

I was able to get a friend to test his 400mm 2.8 II over in New Zealand (a big thank you to Marcus Schoo) with and without teleconverters, and he came to the same conclusion as I did regarding the Canon 400mm f2.8 II lens: it is a beautifully, sharp lens on its own from f2.8 to f11 (I didn't test it beyond f11).  However, it's not as sharp with the teleconverters on, and perhaps more importantly, it's often noticeably not as sharp (I think we all expect that images with our teleconverters aren't going to be as sharp as with the lens on its own, but it's usually a fairly minimal difference -- in many cases with the 400, it was not minimal).

So does this mean I wouldn't buy the Canon 400mm f2.8 II lens?  Of course not!  Ha-ha!  The size, weight, and ease-of-use of the lens in combination with the lovely sharpness without teleconverters makes it almost the perfect lens for low-light wildlife photography and I simply could not get over how nice it feels.  It does still have a major issue with where the focus ring is placed and with how sensitive that ring is (see my previous review on the Canon 400mm f2.8 vs the Canon 600mm f4), but my little trick of taping down the focus ring with clear shipping tape worked wonders to off-set this major annoyance (hello Canon, how about talking to some wildlife photographers the next time you design a lens!).

After five days playing around with the 600 and two and a half weeks of playing around with the 400, here are my final, final, FINAL conclusions:

1. I need to make more money.

2. The Calgary Flames suck.

3. I want to buy both lenses.  Why?  Because the 400mm f2.8 is absolutely perfect for early morning and late evening photography and gives me the flexibility of having a long lens at f2.8, while the 600mm f4 gives me the reach I've been dreaming of each and every time I've been staked out on a wolf kill, particularly when coupled with the impressive results I saw out of the teleconverters on this lens.

4. I need to make more money.

5. There is a very high likelihood that I won't even consider the 'supposed-to-arrive-before-2017' Canon 200-400mm lens with a built-in teleconverter (why did they do this?!) because the Canon 400mm f2.8 lens may suit my needs better.

And that, my friends, is a wrap.  I'm now off to photograph baby lynx (I saw 7 yesterday)....

Happy shooting!

John

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