Bounties and indiscriminate poisoning of wolves and coyotes would create more issues than they would resolve, says the agricultural services director for Clearwater County.
Matt Martinson serves livestock producers in one of the most rugged and mountainous counties in the province, populated by healthy populations of wolves, coyotes, cougars and grizzly bears.
“We pride ourselves here at (Clearwater) county in being able to strike a balance between having a strong agricultural industry and also having an untouched, pristine environment.”
While he doesn’t have actual numbers, Martinson said wolf populations appear to be on the rise and new packs are starting to show up in areas where they had not been seen in the past, including rangelands east and northeast of Rocky Mountain House.
The increase in wolves has raised concerns about how to protect livestock from those packs that have developed a taste for beef and other pasture animals.
Earlier this month, a group of conservationists from throughout the province met in Red Deer to talk about the impact of a growing population of healthy packs and the various means for controlling them.
Central to their discussion was the wolf bounty being offered in some areas to reduce or eliminate problem packs.
Bounties are definitely not the way to go, said Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“We would envision a kind of Alberta where we’re recognizing the important role that top predators play in ecosystems, the real problems that wolves can cause instead of the mythological problems, and that we deal with those real problems on the basis of science,” Campbell said after the meeting.
The province has scientific resources available that should be used to guide to provide rural municipalities where wolf predation is an issue, she said.
“I think that’s what Albertans expect our provincial government to do in the 21st century. I think that’s the vision we have for how we deal with wolves in Alberta,” said Campbell.
Clearwater county shares Campbell’s belief that bounties and indiscriminate poisoning are inappropriate ways because those methods cannot be limited to the animals that are actually causing problems, said Martinson.
Because they are territorial, a pack of wolves that prefers deer and moose to domestic cattle actually protects cattle by keeping other wolves away, he said.
“You need to control the problem animals, and you need to coexist with the ones that aren’t causing you problems.
“That’s our philosophy out here, and it’s hard to argue with it when it comes from a county that has some of the most mountainous and rugged terrain that you could find in any county.”
Clearwater County recommends that livestock producers avoid exposing baby calves to predation while encouraging them to take direct aim at wolf packs that approach their farmyards and cattle herds.
Wolf attacks on livestock generally happen in summer, when cows and calves are turned out to graze, said Martinson. He encourages farmers to confine their cows and heifers during calving season and to start calving earlier in the year, so the calves are fast and strong enough to defend themselves or run to their mothers by the time they are put onto summer pasture.
He also encourages farmers to keep a rifle handy when they’re out on their tractors and to allow big game hunters onto their property to watch for wolves lurking near their buildings and livestock.
Shane Steffen, agricultural services director for Ponoka County, said his county does not offer a bounty.
While there are wolves in the western area of the county, attacks on livestock are rare. If a problem does develop, Steffen asks provincial wildlife officials to handle it.
Steffen said bounties may be more common in northern counties, where wolves are becoming more of a problem.
Jane Fulton, agricultural services director for Mountain View County, said her municipality is also among those that does not offer a bounty.
Rick Martyn, president of the Sundre Fish and Game Association, could not be reached to comment on an “incentive” program his club had set up for licensed trappers and hunters.