Friday, January 23, 2015

'Beautiful' BC to Gun Down 180 Wolves

Hired snipers. Deftly-skilled pilots. And dead wolves. Lots of dead wolves. 180 of them by the time the snow melts in British Columbia in two select areas, the South Peace and the South Selkirks. And the best part? You're paying for it.

That's right, every single one of us tree huggers, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, tourists, businesspeople, government employees, and general citizens are paying for the British Columbia government to gun down wolves in these two regions in a misguided attempt to save five different small herds of woodland caribou that are on the brink of extirpation (one in the South Selkirks in the southeast part of the province and four in the South Peace in the north).

Will we allow BC to follow Alberta's lead and waste millions of taxpayer dollars killing wolves?

You would think British Columbia would have gotten on the phone with neighbouring Alberta (they are talking, right? "Hey Christy, it's Jim, so about those pipelines...") and asked how Alberta's own lengthy wolf cull has been going.

In case you missed it on yesterday's blog, Alberta has killed more than 1,000 wolves since 2005 using a variety of super humane methods (take your pick from strangling to death in a trapper's snare, getting poisoned with strychnine, or being gunned down from a demon machine chasing you through the snow from above) in efforts to save the Little Smoky caribou herd in the west central part of the province. How successful has it been? To date they've spent millions of dollars (I'm guessing at this, as I believe ten years of hired guns and helicopters isn't cheap), killed a thousand wolves, and seen the Little Smoky caribou herd's population increase by almost...pardon me, what?! They haven't increased at all in that whole time?!

The facts surrounding the Alberta wolf cull in the past decade are sobering. The Canadian Journal of Zoology reported in November 2014 that Alberta’s wolf cull failed to achieve any improvement in Boreal Woodland Caribou adult female survival, or any improvement in calf survival, and as such had no effect on population dynamics. In other words, they're wasting money killing wolves with no scientific basis for doing so.

The South Peace caribou face local extirpation without a tough new caribou recovery plan

And British Columbia is now following suit. They have already begun killing wolves in the South Selkirks, where 24 wolves are targeted this winter in an effort to save a remnant herd of just 18 caribou. Another 120-160 wolves will be shot in the South Peace region to bolster four small herds of declining caribou there.

But as I pointed out in yesterday's blog, scapegoating wolves for the decline in caribou numbers isn't based in scientific reality. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) National Executive Director Eric Hebert-Daly told the Canadian Press that “despite scientific information about the negative impact of industrial activity on caribou and the importance of planning for conservation before approving new developments, on the ground it appears to be largely business as usual [in British Columbia].”

CPAWS went on to reiterate exactly what I wrote about yesterday in relation to Alberta's wolf cull and farcical caribou recovery 'plan':

"In many instances where ranges are already highly disturbed, the primary cause for caribou mortality is wolf predation. But it is important to note that the increased predation is the outcome of habitat fragmentation, degradation and roads. After an area is logged, new growth attracts other ungulates such as moose and deer, which attract more wolves that indiscriminately prey upon caribou. … In some instances, caribou populations will be extirpated if predation continues unabated. But the killing of wolves in the absence of meaningful habitat protection and restoration is not a viable solution, and may further disrupt the natural balance of functioning ecosystems."

Killing wolves to save caribou doesn't work. Just ask Alberta.

Until British Columbia puts together a true caribou recovery plan for the South Selkirk, the South Peace, and other critical woodland caribou habitat in British Columbia, then this entire exercise in killing wolves is a moot point and a waste of money and time, not to mention ridiculously unethical -- how humane is it to chase wolves from a helicopter? I don't care how skilled those rented shooters are, there is no chance they kill instantly with every shot.

So what do I mean by a true caribou recovery plan? A few signs restricting snowmobile access into core areas? No logging in the final few drainages that are still intact in the South Selkirks? Sure, that's a miniscule start that's already in place, but a real plan will have gnarly, sharp teeth that will bite into every piece of habitat degradation that has gone on over the past century in both regions: immediately halting most logging, mining, and oil and gas activity in current and former caribou range, deactivating roads and atv trails and shutting down all recreational access, and immediately starting the process of restoring the habitat to suit caribou recovery for the long-term. Until that happens, until there is a real plan in place that is armed like those heli gunners, then anything the British Columbia government says or does is just lip service pretending that they care about saving caribou.

If British Columbia is allowed to continue down this path of murdering wolves from the air with no scientific evidence to support the cull, they will end up killing hundreds of wolves, year after year, just like Alberta has. And like in Alberta, the killing will make no difference to caribou recovery efforts. The only way to make a true difference in caribou recovery is to make the hard decisions that protect and restore the habitat. Until that happens, with or without a wolf cull, we will see a continued erosion of the habitat, zero short-term progress in caribou recovery, and, eventually, the extirpation of caribou entirely from the South Selkirks, the South Peace, and the rest of British Columbia.

So what can YOU do to help?

This time it's even easier to get on board and help than it was with the Alberta campaign.

Want to donate to help in the fight? Visit Pacific Wild's indiegogo fundraising campaign and consider putting some money into this (there are some amazing gifts to be given away to donators). They just launched the fundraiser this morning and are already almost at $10,000.

Want to sign a petition? Join the more than 90,000 people worldwide that have signed this week at https://www.change.org/p/save-b-c-wolves

Want to write a letter or email to government?  Pacific Wild has written a draft letter that you can use or modify and set it up so you can send it directly to the British Columbia government at http://www.pacificwild.org/site/take_action/wolf-action.html (halfway down the page, watch for the blue link 'Write a Letter/Send an Email').

Thank you for all of the support everyone, please share this link far and wide and help us get the word out.

John

Labels: , , ,

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

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Canadian Geographic Cover - Wolf Photo

News and Notes for January 2015 - Happy  New Year everyone! I left on holidays on December 20th and got back into the office last week and it seemed like the world devolved more than just a little bit in the short time that I was away. I returned to Canada to news of a coyote killing contest in Alberta Beach near Edmonton, of an extended wolf cull in north-central Alberta, and of a newly proposed wolf cull in two separate regions of British Columbia. And as many of you already know, I don't usually sit around and let news like this waft past with me without first giving it the sniff test. If it smells like sh*t, then I'm usually on it trying to toss it out the door, so stay tuned this week for a number of blog posts regarding wolf culls and predator killing contests and what you can do to help.

In the meantime, I wanted to quickly catch you all up on a few tidbits from the past few months. For those of you in Canada, you can see my work on the cover and interior of the latest Canadian Geographic magazine on newsstands now throughout the country. The feature article is a timely piece about the state of wolves in Canada, titled "Beauty or Beast: Exploring our Love-Hate Relationship with the Wolf."

Cover photo of the January/February 2015 Annual Wildlife Issue of Canadian Geographic magazine

There's also an interesting blog entry on the Canadian Geo site that talks about how they chose the cover image out of the three images they had narrowed it down to (fortunately for me, all three choices were photos of mine for the second time in three years for the Annual Wildlife Issue).
Canadians can also catch my work on the cover of the November-December 2014 issue of Canadian Wildlife magazine, along with an article inside featuring my photos of Littlefoot, the grizzly bear that got a new lease on life courtesy of the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in British Columbia last spring. Canadian Wildlife's sister magazine for kids, WILD, also published an article featuring my photos of Littlefoot in their December-January 2015 issue.

Canadian Wildlife magazine featuring a photo of mine from one of my grizzly bear photo tours

In British Columbia and Alberta, those of you that fly with Hawkair, Central Mountain Air, or Northern Thunderbird can catch a full feature written and photographed by me in their excellent in-flight magazine Northern Routes. And since not all of you are in BC or Alberta, here's a pdf of the article, A Visit to Remember, about the contest winners of my fundraiser last spring for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter.

A Visit to Remember, the winners of last year's fundraiser get to visit the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter!

And finally, for those of you in the United States, I've started working with Ranger Rick magazine again and you can find an image of mine on the back cover of the December/January 2015 issue.

Back Cover of the current issue of Ranger Rick magazine (sorry about the quality of the scan!)

Note that I recently had a cancellation on my Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop from February 17th-22nd in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, opening up one spot. If you're interested in learning how to track and photograph wildlife with me and a small group of like-minded photographers, then please check it out and let me know if you're interested in attending. The cover shot of Canadian Geographic magazine above was taken on this workshop in 2014!

Want to photograph giant bighorn rams with me? Check out the opening on my February workshop.

Thanks everyone, good luck in the New Year and stay tuned for lots of wolf news in the coming days.

John

Labels: , , ,