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

Making good for Little Smoky caribou range in Alberta

Date: 18th November 2017

 

Have you watched Dr. Judith Samson-French talk about the Alberta Government’s wolf poisoning program in Little Smoky caribou habitat? Let’s clarify some of the discussion points, and respond to comments made by Dave Hervieux, the caribou manager working for the Alberta government:

  1. Mr. Hervieux feels the Alberta government is not responsible for non-target deaths reported by Alberta trappers in caribou range saying that wolf trapping is “not part of our program at all”.

Between 2005 and 2012, at least 676 animals were accidentally killed in traps set for wolves in Alberta’s caribou range.

While our most recent Freedom of Information request wasn’t about these results, (Raincoast published those numbers back in 2015), these unnecessary deaths still warrant attention. Mr. Hervieux argues that trapping is done by licensed trappers and not the government. Whether or not wolf control program managers, including Mr. Hervieux, are even assisting* those trappers directly, the government remains responsible for allowing trappers to use these devices in the first place. No matter who sets snares, they are still non-selective and very cruel.

The draft plan for Little Smoky caribou, written by the Alberta Government, explicitly outlines their plan to support trapping:

“The Government of Alberta will continue its existing wolf population management program in and adjacent to the Little Smoky and A La Peche Caribou Ranges. Alberta will engage local Indigenous communities in dialogue on traditional knowledge supports, and opportunities for communities to support predator management efforts.” (pg 14)

While Alberta has not updated its Wolf Management Plan since 1991, that plan does outline wolf control policy: “When a decision is made to reduce wolf populations in specific areas, assistance will be provided to wolf trappers.”

Clearly, the government is relying upon the fact that there are trappers who will consistently desire to trap wolves.

*Assistance is described in the 1991 wolf management plan as “free traps and snares, provision of beaver carcasses or road-killed ungulates where possible, and reimbursement over and above the market value for pelts”.

 

 

  1. Mr. Hervieux ignores the critical information we obtained from our Freedom of Information request: the growing number of non-target deaths associated with strychnine.

He failed to comment on how inappropriate it is to leave strychnine baits for 8 days without checking for victims. Health Canada regulates strychnine in Canada, and the Alberta government is required to check strychnine poison baits “at least every 7 days.”

Depending on the dosage, strychnine can take an hour or a day to kill an animal. In the meantime, the poisoned animals travel before dying, sometimes moving great distances. Even 1 day between poison station checks could result in missing victims, especially when snow tracks are blown again in winter weather conditions. The Alberta government can’t even manage to check their bait stations within the already liberal 7-day window.

This means that in addition to the risks of non-target poisoning of other scavengers (birds of prey, other carnivores such as fox, bears, lynx and fisher), the risk of not even being able to count the number of victims makes this poison permit completely unacceptable.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association states: “The ingestion of some pesticides [e.g., strychnine, Compound 1080…], results in severe pain, uncontrollable seizures, and death by asphyxiation.

Not once did Hervieux refute the fact that strychnine poisoning of any wildlife is inhumane.

How could he?

 

 

  1. With respect to the roughly 200 moose, deer and elk that were shot and used for draw baits for strychnine poisoning of wolves, Mr. Hervieux interjected to say, “The carcasses are not poisoned”

We argue that it doesn’t make much difference whether a whole carcass is used to hide strychnine, or whether it is used as a central bait in a circle of smaller hills of snow and mud where the strychnine is hidden? Either way, these animals, once healthy, are slaughtered for no other reason than to poison more wildlife.

 

 

  1. Hervieux argues that the Little Smoky caribou population, estimated to be about 100 animals, “is still a relevant biological thing for us to try and conserve. It is a viable population, it will make it…that is as a result of the program that we are delivering”

Dr. Samson-French points out most mammalian populations are considered viable at much larger numbers, citing 500-1000 animals generally. Anything less is at serious risk of being wiped out by random effects, such as disease or unusually harsh weather.

It is extremely important to remember that the federal government has set the minimum threshold of undisturbed caribou habitat at 65% – this includes disturbances from logging, energy and fire, blow-downs or insect outbreaks that destroy habitat features that caribou rely on.

Little Smoky is currently only 4% undisturbed.

Even at the 65% undisturbed threshold, the federal government warns that the chances of a caribou population sustaining itself is not much greater than 50/50.

Mr. Hervieux’s published assessment of the wolf killing program on Little Smoky caribou population shows that the caribou population did not grow despite all the wolf killing. In fact, the population didn’t seem to respond any differently than A La Peche caribou in the neighbouring herd, where wolves were not being slaughtered by Mr. Hervieux’s team.

 

 

  1. “The continued existence of that caribou population benefits many species, benefits the land in a way. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to conserve caribou habitat when the caribou are gone.”

It is common practice to value certain species by describing the other species that rely upon and are benefited by the one in question. While this doesn’t address any species’ inherent value, it shows the value of the other components of an ecosystem.

Caribou are not the only species worth protecting, they are a small piece of a very large, complex puzzle that we are part of and depend on for many reasons. We should conserve areas like the Little Smoky regardless of whether there are caribou present or not. Sadly, this has never been the goal in this part of Alberta, a landscape almost completely carved up by industry.

 

“In essence, this work is trying to make good on a situation that we have made bad in the past,” concluded Mr. Hervieux.

If making good means killing wolves, bears, moose, deer, elk, foxes, raptors, lynx, fisher, weasels, marten, and selling off the land to the highest industrial bidder, then it’s time to redefine what “good” means to the Alberta government.

 

Please click here to take action and help us put an end to strychnine poisoning.

 

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