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Poison strategy questioned

A Central Alberta biologist is demanding answers after discovering the province is poisoning wolves and coyotes near a protected area.

A provincial official says the kill is necessary to curb livestock losses.

Myrna Pearman found a sign inside the Town Creek Natural Area warning users of poison baits set to kill wolves and coyotes.

“This is public land and belongs to all Albertans and should be retained for its habitat value, which includes predator species.”

Town Creek Natural Area is about 30 km north of Rimbey on Hwy 20’s east side. Like Alberta’s nearly 150 other natural areas, the 640 acres inside Town Creek are government-owned and protected lands preserving Alberta’s biological and physical diversity.

Pearman and a friend found a poison notice while hiking late last month.

“The sign was right at the entrance about 100 metres into the area wrapped with black electrical tape around a tree,” said Pearman, who is the Sylvan Lake Natural Area’s volunteer steward.

None of the poison was set in the natural area. It was placed on adjacent Crown grazing leases where cattle losses had been reported.

Pearman has asked in a letter to Diana McQueen, the province’s Environment and Sustainable Resource minister, why poison control is necessary, why the public pays for predator control on public lands when only grazing leaseholders benefit and why Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, which administers natural areas, wasn’t informed of the program.

“I want to know how many wolves and coyotes are killed? What is the true cost of this program?”

Clark Merriman, director of the Prairies Area Fish and Wildlife Enforcement branch, Justice and Solicitor General Department, said nearby livestock deaths meant the province had to take action.

“Buck Mountain and Medicine Lake are the grazing reserves that have experienced some degree of livestock predation and some private landowners have experienced it as well. We’ve had 10 occurrences reported since early fall (and) there could be more than one loss to each of the occurrences.”

Medicine Lake Provincial Grazing Reserve is about 25 km northwest of Rimbey while Buck Mountain Provincial Grazing Reserve is about 25 km northwest of Winfield. Their combined 26,800 acres have nearly 18,000 acres of pasture. Both reserves are home to white-tailed and mule deer, elk, moose, bear and coyotes.

Merriman didn’t know how many sites had been baited, but the primary poison used is strychnine.

“Poison still remains an effective tool. We use it with a fair degree of caution and prudence.

“We also employ leg-hold traps and neck snares. There are a number of elements to the (predator) control program, but I guess in terms of overall effectiveness, we need to maintain as many tools as we can in the toolbox.”

Pearman called poison “inhumane because it causes the animal a slow, agonizing death, especially strychnine and Compound 1080. Poison also targets non-target species which results in the death of other animals.”

Merriman said when animals “ingest the poison on an empty stomach, it’s metabolized quite quickly and does oftentimes kill them fairly quickly.”

Strychnine is highly toxic, causing severe muscular convulsions and death through asphyxia from continuous respiratory muscle spasms.

Merriman said bait is not left out for extended periods.

“To minimize non-target species, we’ll remove the baits. We do try to take as many precautions with the use of bait as we can.”

Pearman said all Albertans deserve answers to her questions.

“The public needs to be better informed about the program.”



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