Caribou herds in Alberta and parts of British Columbia are nearing extinction. Environment Canada has unveiled a new plan to rebuild the dwindling herds in Alberta’s tar sands region. The primary suggestion is to cull their predators, the wolves.
Environment Minister Peter Kent’s remarks have been widely quoted: “Culling is an accepted if regrettable scientific practice and means of controlling populations and attempting to balance what civilization has developed. I’ve got to admit, it troubles me that that’s what is necessary to protect this species.”
As part of its attempt to rebuild the caribou population, Environment Canada will also allow more hunting of the deer and moose that share the habitat. But it is the proposed wolf cull that is causing the most controversy. Reporting in The Canadian Press, Heather Scoffield wrote: ”Environment Canada’s research shows that 100 wolves would need to die for every four caribou calves saved.”
This comes on the heels of news that British Columbia is allowing ranchers and First Nations communities in the province’s Cariboo region to kill wolves that might attack livestock. Once again, wolves will pay the price for problems caused by humans.
Wolf Kills Instead of Environmental Stewardship
The tar sands are the most recent, and most visible, cause of the habitat destruction that has led to loss of caribou. The area has been logged, mined, scraped and fracked into an environmental disaster that can no longer support the wildlife populations that once thrived there. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Paul Paquet writes in The Guardian:
“Egged on by a rapacious oil industry, the federal government has chosen to scapegoat wolves for the decline of boreal caribou in a morally and scientifically bankrupt attempt to protect Canada’s industrial sacred cow: the tar sands. Yet, the ultimate reason why the caribou are on the way out is because multiple human disturbances – most pressingly, the tar sands development – have altered their habitat into a landscape that can no longer provide the food, cover and security they need.”
Here we go again. Instead of addressing our endless destruction of the environment, the Canadian government proposes killing wolves. They will likely do so willy-nilly, shooting and poisoning thousands in a vain attempt to slow caribou losses. Paquet points out,
“Lethal control has a well documented failed record of success as a means of depressing numbers of wolves over time. Killing wolves indiscriminately at levels sufficient to suppress populations disrupts pack social structure and upsets the stability of established territories, allowing more wolves to breed while promoting the immigration of wolves from nearby populations.”
Killing Predators Won’t Restore Caribou Habitat
The Canadian Wolf Coalition points out that “Caribou depend on old-growth forests for food (lichen) as well as to avoid predators. One predator avoidance strategy used by caribou requires living in the deep interior of the forest. In winter months the snow is often too deep for predators, especially at higher elevations, but caribou use their large hooves to travel. Caribou also live spread out over large areas to avoid encounters with predators.”
Killing wolves will not bring back the habitat destroyed by two-legged predators. The Canadian Wolf Coalition also says, “Logging destroys caribou habitat directly. New roads, pipelines, snowmobiling and backcountry skiing are larger problems than they appear to be, as they create snow-packed pathways that lead predators into caribou habitat in territory predators could not have accessed in the past.”
Human activity in Alberta and northern B.C. has disrupted everything nature teaches caribou about finding food, breeding and hiding from predators. Environment Canada’s plan proposes the sacrifice of wolves, moose and deer in a vain attempt to stop the loss of caribou. What they should be doing is proposing an environmental strategy to stop the destruction of this corner of the planet.
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Wolf Photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species via Flickr Creative Commons; Moose photograph by Robin Jarman, used with permission; Caribou photograph by Cathryn Wellner