Wolf Awareness is a non-profit Canadian organization dedicated to the conservation of wolves through research and public education about wolf ecology.

Background Information for Comment Period: Alberta’s draft caribou protection plan makes for “Dirty Oil “.

Background Information for Comment Period.

Wolf Awareness is urging the province of Alberta to amend the Draft Little Smoky and A La Peche Caribou Range Plan in the following ways, or else dispose of it:

1606-WA-be-my-voice1 .  PLACE A MORATORIUM ON INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY WITHIN CARIBOU RANGES AND PRIORITIZE HABITAT PROTECTION AND RESTORATION

2 .  END PREDATOR CONTROL/KILL PROGRAMS IMMEDIATELY

3 .  FOCUS ON HABITAT RESTORATION, LINKAGE AND PROTECTION IN PLACE OF PERMANENT ENCLOSURES FOR CARIBOU

Will you add your voice too? Please comment before August 5th.

Email: esrd.planning@gov.ab.ca and take the on-line survey:https://extranet.gov.ab.ca/opinio6/s?s=30855


POINTS TO PONDER FOR ALBERTA’S LITTLE SMOKY & A LA PECHE CARIBOU RANGE PLANS; AKA: CARIBOU ZOO WOLF KILL

1. RECOVERY RANGE PLAN IS ALL MANAGEMENT, NOT ENOUGH CONSERVATION

The Government of Alberta’s Draft Little Smoky and A La Peche Caribou Range Plan includes a fencing experiment that would enclose a large tract of former wilderness for caribou and then slaughter many other species found inside and out. Natural predators such as wolves, as well as deer, elk, and moose would be destroyed for up to the next 50 years.

Over decades, these areas have been converted from wilderness into industrial landscapes. Although restoring and protecting critical caribou habitat are essential steps to ensuring that caribou have somewhere to live today and into the future, widespread killing programs and fenced enclosures are not conservation tools and should not be disguised as such. They are merely tools to preserve tiny island-like farms of caribou on a carved-up and impoverished landscape. Killing programs and fences have no place in conservation strategy with a long-term vision that takes into account complex species interactions and the dynamics of ecological systems.

The plan contains information about managing caribou and other species, but not about how these animals will be conserved as part of a functioning ecosystem. The plan does not acknowledge other management alternatives, but instead bets on the success of this inflexible, over-simplified fencing experiment.

BACKGROUNDER: “Cry Wolf, An Unethical Oil Film” by DeSmogBlog

CONCLUSION:
Creating caribou farms, while continuously culling wolves and liberalizing hunting of deer, elk and moose is an expensive mega-experiment based on flawed assumptions and small scale experiments that have failed to restore caribou populations and caribou range.

2. TIME TO END THE WOLF KILL EXPERIMENT

Many experts vehemently oppose predator kill programs, yet this critical input is being ignored by decision makers who continue to scapegoat wolves for caribou declines.

SCIENCE
Given the small population size of caribou herds, inbreeding depression may cause sufficient adverse impacts on calf survival and population viability and should not be ignored in assessments of long-term viability.  Furthermore, mountain caribou (the sub-population of woodland caribou that is endangered) are well adapted to an environment that is no longer available to them.  Given the extent of destruction and the influence of a changing climate, it is not certain that the habitat can be restored adequately to support sustainable caribou populations.

A death sentence for wolves will not save endangered caribou, yet predator control programs are being condoned on an “experimental” basis. There is no evidence that supports the hypothesis that widespread wolf kill programs will increase ungulate populations in the long term. On the contrary, more than 1000 wolves have been killed under the guise of protecting the Little Smoky Caribou herd over the past 11 years with no significant increase in caribou numbers. Wolves have been strangled, gunned down from helicopters and poisoned using carcasses laced with strychnine.

Image of Yellowstone National Park showing more species diversity after wolves returned to the system. Image courtesy National Geographic © March 2010

Image of Yellowstone National Park showing more species diversity after wolves returned to the system. Image courtesy National Geographic © March 2010

ECOLOGY
Wolves are a keystone species, capable of causing trophic cascades. Wolves help to maintain biodiversity and facilitate large-scale processes in our wilderness ecosystems. The repercussions of removing a top predator and keystone species can trigger trophic cascades leading to a decrease in overall species diversity, resulting in diminished interactions and ecological processes. This has been well documented across the Greater Yellowstone landscape with the extirpation and recovery of wolves.

We are dealing with dynamic ecosystems characterized by uncertainty, surprise and complexity. There are no ecological models that take into account all possible variables and predict a clear outcome. We can no longer allow for long-term experiments that involve killing scapegoated species among the predator guild only to learn it does not bring about the desired results.

ETHICS
To even consider such mass killings for decades to come under the guise of conservation is absurd, embarrassing and shameful. Wolves are emotional and intelligent beings whose predation on caribou is facilitated by habitat destruction. Therefore, this is also a question of animal welfare. Causing harm to hundreds of intelligent and sensitive animals is questionable from a moral standpoint. Are we prepared to spend the next several decades killing wolves in a vain attempt to maintain small herds of caribou in degraded habitat?

Public attitudes toward animals continue to evolve as more research on animal cognition emerges, showing us how similarly animals think and feel as we do. As our society re-values empathy and compassion, it is the  governments’ responsibility to acknowledge the moral drivers that underlie these shifts. Killing experiments that defy people’s growing compassion for animals as well as the wealth of available scientific research cannot be accepted as a valid conservation policy.

BACKGROUNDER: “Maintaining ethical standards during conservation crises”. (2015) Published in the Journal of Canadian Wildlife Biology and Management. Authors: Ryan K. Brook, Marc Cattet, Chris T. Darimont, Paul C. Paquet, Gilbert Proulx.

CONCLUSION:
It is time to take into account ethics while making decisions about wildlife. These decisions should reflect the views of the public as a whole and not only selected interest groups. Experiments that involve the intentional killing of animals violate the fundamental principles of ethical science. Applying an adaptive management approach to managing our landscapes should not be about applying the ‘killing’ strategy and testing it. There is a need to start thinking more creatively about the complexity of our ecosystems, and entertain strategies that seek to build resilience instead of reducing complexity into farm-like models.

3. IF CARIBOU ARE THE PRIORITY, WHY IS INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY PLANNED TO CONTINUE WITHIN CRITICAL CARIBOU HABITAT?

It is unclear why a caribou conservation plan would allow for the continued destruction, fragmentation, and overall impoverishment of remaining critical caribou habitat. The province has knowingly allowed industry to destroy, fragment and disturb caribou habitat for several decades despite concerns raised by scientists since the late 1970’s.

According to 2012’s federal Recovery Strategy for Caribou, 95% of critical caribou habitat in the Little Smoky range is already disturbed by industrial development and infrastructure. Numerous scientists, conservation organizations, and people around the world do not think that industry should be occurring within identified critical caribou ranges. This proposal to continue industry at all costs is unacceptable on moral and ecological grounds.

The limited quantity and quality of present habitat left for caribou requires increased and immediate restoration and protection. The discussion about self-sustaining populations is futile in the context of continuous resource exploitation in the region. Habitat restoration and management on the landscape scale cannot be confined only to specific areas. A moratorium on human activity within caribou range is required.

Biologists state that habitat changes due to human activities are the real causes of caribou decline, destroying specialized habitat caribou need to survive.

Biologists state that habitat changes due to human activities are the real causes of caribou decline, destroying specialized habitat caribou need to survive.

The plan lacks the reference to other scientific studies and fails to address the complexity of threats that the caribou face. For example, the plan doesn’t mention impacts of climate change on the caribou population or potential vulnerability due to the genetic implications of penned caribou herds that may prevent them from adapting to a changing environment, see the 2013 article Caribou genetics reveal shadow of climate change, published in Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science. Also conveniently absent from the draft is mention of research showing that logging and oil and gas development causes physiological and nutritional stress to caribou, which in turn may affect their breeding patterns, see  the article Caribou in Albertas oil sands stressed by human activity, not wolves | UW Today”.

BACKGROUNDER:Witnessing extinction: Cumulative impacts across landscapes and the future loss of an evolutionarily significant unit of woodland caribou in Canada“. (2015) Published in the journal of Biological Conservation. Authors: Chris J. Johnson, Libby P.W. Ehlers, Dale R. Seip

CONCLUSION:
The government’s proposed plan would effectively reduce complex ecosystems to maladaptive models that are not based on ecosystem-level management, but on saving a species from extinction in order to let industry continue to pilfer the land. This is unacceptable.

See recent media coverage about this issue in the Red Deer Advocate – Caribou fence plan panned.