Thursday, January 22, 2015

1,000 Dead Wolves and Counting...

There it is on the Travel Alberta website: "Welcome to Alberta, home of the largest wolf cull in Canada, where the tax dollars our government gleans from your tourist visits pays for our hired guns to blast wild wolves from the sky, all in the name of psuedo-science."

Oh, I'm sorry, apparently that's not exactly what the Alberta tourism website says. After closer examination, the "Welcome to Alberta" part is correct, but the real wording goes on to gush about how "Alberta is an exceptional vacation destination you won’t soon forget, filled with unique activities, urban charms and cultural jewels." I wonder if those "unique activites" include the killing of over 1,000 wolves in the Little Smoky caribou range since 2005? Trapping, hunting, poisoning (who the F**K still allows poisoning in the 21st century?!!! YAYYYY, Alberta does!!), and once again this winter, aerial gunning, all paid for by me, you, and every single tourist that has ever stepped foot into this gorgeous province.

It's like we're stuck in 1970, killing wolves with poison and aerial gunning

So why are they killing wolves as fast and furiously as they can in the Little Smoky? All in the name of 'science', in order to protect one of the most critically endangered boreal caribou herds in the country.

The Little Smoky, a 2500-square kilometer area just north of Hinton, Alberta, is home to between 60 and 80 boreal woodland caribou, comprising the southernmost herd of boreal caribou in the province. Like most of their counterparts across BC and Alberta, the Little Smoky herd has seen a precipitous decline in their numbers over the past few decades, due to a striking increase in industrial development including roads, seismic lines, pipelines, cut blocks, and well sites, which in turn has led to higher mortality from wolves.

So how are the two connected? How has the mass-scale industrial expansion in the Little Smoky range led to an increase in caribou killed by wolves in the area? The increase in predator access and predator efficiency in industrially-developed caribou range can be traced to two key factors: first, the roads and seismic lines and similar linear features needed for oil & gas exploration, well site construction, and logging, make it easier for wolves to get into caribou range and increase their ability to hunt effectively (it's a lot easier walking on a plowed road than it is trudging through a meter of snow). Second, the removal of old-growth forest in the Little Smoky has caused a change in the prey-base of the area; the new growth in the cut-blocks has resulted in an increase in prey species like deer, elk, and moose, which in turn has led to more wolves coming in to the area. Combine those two factors and you have wolves suddenly living close to caribou with plowed roads and right-of-ways making their access to the area easy. Two hundred years ago the caribou survived by simply being in areas where there weren't many wolves, but now in the Little Smoky and across much of the woodland caribou's range in Alberta and BC, industrial development has changed the game. And caribou are losing.

Woodland caribou in the Little Smoky are perilously close to disappearing altogether, with just 60-80 remaining

Just how heavily developed is the Little Smoky? The Federal Government's recent recovery strategy for boreal caribou noted that just 5% of intact habitat still remains in the Little Smoky range.

Back in 2001 and 2004, researchers sounded the alarm for the Little Smoky herd, calling it a "population in imminent danger of extirpation" due to industrial development with "high levels of human disturbance resulting from forestry and oil and gas activity." Not surprisingly, the Alberta government continued to give out development permits to both industries despite these initial warning calls.

In the winter of 2005-06, the Alberta government initiated its first aerial wolf control program in the Little Smoky, despite once again continuing to hand out development permits for new well sites, new cut blocks, new seismic lines, and new roads.

At this point in 2015, the Alberta government has now funded the death of over 1,000 wolves since 2005 in an attempt to save the Little Smoky caribou herd. What they have not done is limit the all-encompassing industrial development in the region. Instead, they have stuck a very expensive band-aid (how much do you think it costs to send hired guns into the air in helicopters and kill 100 wolves a year?!) on a gushing wound and expected us all to turn a blind eye to the blood pouring from the edges of the bandage.

Killing wolves in the Little Smoky is nothing more than a smokescreen for much larger industrial development issues

The real issue, as I think everyone knows at this point, is that the Alberta provincial government has been ignoring conservation groups, scientists, and even federal calls for a caribou recovery strategy (they are already a year late with no plan in sight) and continues to this day to allow new development in the Little Smoky. We're now at a point where we may be up to thirty years away from being able to effect a habitat change that would truly benefit caribou enough to see a population increase (provided of course we kill every single wolf in the region until then).

Worst of all in this issue is that the provincial government in Alberta is using wolves as their scapegoats for a human-caused problem, killing wolves and their families en-masse on my dime and on your dime, using taxpayer and tourist dollars.

The bottom line here is that not only is the current wolf cull in the Little Smoky unethical (poisoning and aerial gunning, really?!), but it's also unscientific. Researchers from Alberta's own University of Alberta agree:
 
"The underlying issue is one of habitat loss which affects caribou... Wolf-control programs...do not provide a long-term solution to counter caribou declines. Studies in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Colombia have shown that this method resulted in only short-term increases in ungulate populations because wolf populations increased shortly after culling was ceased (e.g. Boertje et al. 1996, NRC 1997, Bergerud and Elliot 1998, Hayes et al. 2003). The management strategies currently in place have the potential to increase caribou survival if applied continuously but they do not address the main issue of habitat loss, habit degradation, and habitat fragmentation."

The most up-to-date research is showing that the wolf cull "has barely managed" to keep the Little Smoky caribou herd stable, despite the deaths of a thousand wolves at an untold financial cost to taxpayers (though I would venture that it must be in the millions of dollars at this stage). CBC News reported that many of the province's top caribou scientists found that the wolf cull has allowed the Little Smoky herd to hang on, but that the habitat is indeed more than 30 years away from being restored and that restoration in many parts of the Little Smoky has not even begun. In fact, industry's footprint has continued to grow in the area, even in recent years, and industrial leases continue to be handed out throughout other endangered caribou ranges in Alberta.

Caribou aren't going to survive in Alberta without a sharp-toothed long-range recovery plan

Originally when I first entered this debate, I felt that until the provincial government comes up with a legitimate plan to save the boreal caribou herds like the Little Smoky, then we should be fighting this inhumane wolf cull tooth-and-nail. And I definitely still feel that way, however, there's a problem with focusing solely on shutting down the wolf cull.

If we fight vigourously to get the cull shut down, wolves and other factors will almost certainly very quickly wipe out the remainder of the Little Smoky herd. Oil and gas and forestry will have their way, the caribou will be gone, and industry will continue to run rough-shod over the Little Smoky and the remaining viable caribou ranges in the province. Are we willing to let that happen?

I can say one thing for certain, I'm not willing to sit around and do nothing while I watch the Alberta government continue to plunder away our money while murdering wolves as a stop-gap measure allowing the Little Smoky herd to 'exist' on the fringes of extirpation.

What I believe we need to call for is a comprehensive plan moving forward that not only immediately stops killing wolves in caribou recovery areas, but immediately enacts long-range plans for habitat mitigation measures that are tougher than anything industry has ever seen on this continent. The Premier of Alberta claims we need to be environmental leaders or risk being left behind, so let's show them how it's done, Mr. Prentice. No more logging in caribou habitat, no more roads, no more recreational access, no more oil and gas development. Deactivate and remove many existing roads, and well sites. Limit all recreational access, no atvs, no snowmobiles, no skiing.

Are we willing to take these seemingly drastic steps? If we are, then we can also begin a large-scale captive rearing program that will reintroduce caribou back in to the Little Smoky range 30 years from now when the habitat has been restored, and in the meantime we can all sleep well at night knowing that we didn't bear witness to the slaughter of thousands of wolves as a stop-gap measure that never did work. There is no point in killing wolves now to let these caribou in the Little Smoky survive when they have no future there right at this moment in time.

A long-range caribou recovery plan would stop scapegoating wolves and provide a win-win-win in the big picture

We may pay a price in the short-term financially, but if we enact a tough new plan that recovers that habitat, the environmental benefits will be through the roof. A long-term caribou recovery plan with sharp, biting teeth will ensure that other herds in Alberta that aren't yet facing the same dire circumstances as the Little Smoky herd can not only survive, but quickly thrive in their newly protected habitat; safe from human disturbance, and by default, safe from wolves (without the roads and logging, there simply won't be many wolves in these areas). As these caribou populations stabilize and eventually start to grow, we can put our caribou rearing program into place and slowly start to reintroduce caribou back in to the Little Smoky and any other restored areas that they had disappeared from.

It's a win-win-win...caribou win big and survive in the province. Wolves win and are no longer persecuted unfairly as a scapegoat in a fight they didn't start. And best of all, Alberta and the rest of the world wins BIG. If we can convince the government that this is the plan we need, then we will truly be the environmental leaders that our premier hopes we can be.

So what can you do to help?

Sign the petition:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Jim_Prentice_Premier_of_Alberta_Immediately_halt_all_lethal_wolf_control_in_Alberta/

And better yet, write to or email the Premier of Alberta, call his office, or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter, and let him know that you want the wolf cull stopped and a long-range caribou recovery plan implemented immediately. Feel free to tell him that you'll stop visiting Alberta and spending your money here if you feel strongly enough and are from out-of-province. If you're from Alberta, tell him how it makes you feel knowing that your taxpayer money is killing wolves while stalling on delivering a real strategy for caribou recovery. Send him this blog link and see if he responds. And tell him that you truly hope he does turn Alberta into environmental leaders in the world with a decision moving forward that will reap benefits for all of us.

Premier Jim Prentice
307 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2251
Email: calgary.foothills@assembly.ab.ca or Email Form
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Prentice.Jim
Twitter: @JimPrentice

Be sure to include the Minister of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and the Minister of Alberta Enviroment and Sustainable Resource Development on your correspondence if you email or write a letter to the Premier.

Honourable Maureen Kubinec
Minister of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation
229 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 422-3559
barrhead.morinville.westlock@assembly.ab.ca
Twitter: @MKubinec

Honourable Kyle Fawcett
Minister of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
420 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2391
calgary.klein@assembly.ab.ca
Twitter: @KyleMLA

Want to do something more simple than writing an email or letter? Then go put a few Comments down on the AESRD's government web page about the wolf slaughter/cull, where they actually try to justify using poisoned baits, snares, and hired gunners: https://aesrd.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/wolf-population-management-protecting-little-smoky-caribou/ 

And of course, the more Comments we get below, the more ammunition we have to present to the Government of Alberta, so please feel free to voice your opinions below.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an in-depth look at British Columbia's equally disheartening wolf culls that were recently announced by the BC Government, including some solid action you can take to help in that fight. If you want to get started early, go sign the petition started by Pacific Wild at https://www.change.org/p/save-b-c-wolves

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21 Comments:

Blogger Angelwolfstorm said...

The wolves are paying the price for humans mistakes, this is so wrong on so many levels!

January 22, 2015 at 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always remember the wolves in the camp up past fort Mac before it was developed. They were big animals and the pack was led by a big black fella whose job it was to be seen once in a while so we could know whose turf we were on. I always wondered what happened to them obviously they moved on or were quietly shot by the companies. I dont know where they went or what happened to them, I always think of them when I see a picture of a black wolf. Later you began to hear the tales of guys turning around unaware and there is a wolf stalking him, not common but enough I am sure that its the oil and gas companies who want the cull. No one wants the bad press of having a wolf attack on their land. Even though its the wolfs land they took and there was nothing left to eat after it was developed. I don't work up there now haven't the heart for it.

January 22, 2015 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Carla Alford said...

Thank You! Such a well written article. And it is so appreciated when I get a post about an important issue and there is included a link or contact information for decision makers. Its got to be easy or a lot of folks won't take action. Not sure if the canadian govt. cares what we in the US think, but we do spend our tourist dollars there! I hope they take action to reduce habitat fragmentation and degradation that ultimately will benefit caribou and wolves.

January 22, 2015 at 6:05 PM  
Blogger Robert Scriba said...

Very well said. Hope you sent this to the politicians you mentioned above.

January 22, 2015 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger JohnEMarriott said...

Thank you for the input, everyone. Carla, your US dollars definitely have a voice up here, so send those letters! And Robert, yes, I definitely did.

January 22, 2015 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Gordon Scott said...

I have visited Canada, from Great Britain, 3 times in the last 2 years. My most recent was riding aboard the mighty Rocky Mountaineer, taking photographs of the spectacular beauty of the land and the wonderful creatures within. I am postponing my next trip until the culling of these magnificent creatures are stopped. I have persuaded my travelling companions to do the same.
Regards
Gordon Scott

January 23, 2015 at 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop killing animals for the sport of it! Animals should be protected and not hunted. I was thinking of visiting Alberta on my US holiday but after reading what is going on here, I won't be spending any of my money here.

January 23, 2015 at 3:45 AM  
Blogger maple tod said...

I sent them all your blog link as you suggested. I informed them that we spend 4 weeks in Alberta and BC each year and if they continue with this insanity we will infuse our dollars into another province. I want to take this time to thank you for your efforts in bringing this tragedy into everyone's awareness and giving us direction on how to step up to the plate and assist.

January 23, 2015 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Courtney N said...

Thank you for your efforts in trying to stop the slaughter of these amazing animals. The Government should implement a solution that will conserve the caribou and not involve the mass slaughter of wolves. Humans are the root cause of this problem and it is unjust that these animals should have to suffer the consequences of our actions. I will not set foot in Alberta until the Government takes responsibility for the loss of Caribou in this region and comes up with a humane solution to the problem.

January 23, 2015 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Mac McMillen said...

I am also from the USA and was considering a visit this summer to BC and Alberta. I am a wildlife photographer and cherish all the creatures I photograph. Because BC and Alberta have decided to go down the abyss environmentally (wolf cull, brown bear trophy hunting, tar sands, ...), I have decided to take my vacation elsewhere. What a shame; all that Canadian beauty going down the drain due to greed and human development.

January 23, 2015 at 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Christina Larkins said...

Thank you so much, John, for writing such a potent article on behalf of the wolves of Alberta. The killing of wolves has been proven to be an ineffective means of population control, and it will not solve the long-term problems facing the caribou, namely habitat destruction. Killing one species to protect another is unethical, and causing harm to hundreds of intelligent, sentient beings should be questioned for its moral ground. Chasing wolves from helicopters until they are exhausted and shooting them is inherently cruel and not approved under animal care guidelines in Canada. Your proposed long term solution, John, is a win-win for all and I truly hope the Alberta government considers this seriously and soon!

January 23, 2015 at 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am disgraced, outraged and sickened by what our Governments are doing to these Wolves. It is extreme animal cruelty and should not be tolerated. In my opinion, these Wolves are being terrorized and killed and it appears to be completely condoned by our Government.

January 23, 2015 at 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Louise Chivers said...

Heartbreaking indeed. I can't believe that culling these beautiful creatures is the only answer. Shame on you, Alberta. What will your actions be in years to come when the wolves become endangered? A human cull?

January 27, 2015 at 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article John. I have had a cabin in the area affected by this "wolf cull" for over 15 years now and can tell you the effects of this strychnine poisoning is staggering. It is an indiscriminate killer of EVERYTHING in the ecosystem. We can go days now without even seeing a raven and the whiskey jack family we have been feeding for over a decade was absent the year. Totally unacceptable in today's day and age.

January 30, 2015 at 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like its catching on down south too. Idaho Senate approves spending $400,000 to kill wolves http://www.capitalpress.com/20150320/idaho-senate-approves-spending-400000-to-kill-wolves

March 22, 2015 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Mac McMillen said...

Yeah, I'm from Idaho, unfortunately, and it sucks to say the least to see my tax dollars spent on murdering wolves. Idaho ranks near the bottom in education, and this is how they spend my money.

March 23, 2015 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger JohnEMarriott said...

That's not good, Mac. I wish I could claim it was better up here in Alberta, but of course if you just read this then you know better.

March 23, 2015 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Mac McMillen said...

Yeah, I'm surprised by that, John. I had always admired Canada because I thought they really cared and respected their environment. That sure isn't the case anymore. Tar Sands, wolf culls, grizzly bear trophy hunting, etc. Canada has gone into the abyss, environmentally.

March 23, 2015 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger JohnEMarriott said...

I think "abyss" might be too light a term, Mac, given the events of the past decade in this country.

March 23, 2015 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Mac McMillen said...

Yes, I'd have to agree with you there, John.

March 23, 2015 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

We have an election May 5. We know the PC and WR will continue this stupidity, both uncontrolled development and the wolf and raven cull. Only one party will address this issue and stop the cull
the NDP.

April 26, 2015 at 1:28 AM  

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