Poisoning wolves a dangerous game

Poisoning and shooting more than 900 wolves to stabilize a small caribou herd is destroying the area’s ecology and giving Alberta an international black eye, say Central Alberta conservationists.

Mandated by Ottawa the wolf cull tries to stop the Caribou population from declining.

Mandated by Ottawa the wolf cull tries to stop the Caribou population from declining.

Poisoning and shooting more than 900 wolves to stabilize a small caribou herd is destroying the area’s ecology and giving Alberta an international black eye, say Central Alberta conservationists.

“It’s absolutely chilling,” said Bob Scammell, an author and journalist who received the Alberta government’s highest conservation honour, the Order of Bighorn, in 2000.

“It’s an absolute horror story,” added Dwight Rodtka, a retired problem wildlife specialist for Alberta Agriculture.

The men were reacting to a wolf cull that’s been done for the past nine years to try to save a small population of woodland caribou near Little Smoky, just south of Valleyview.

Study results by biologists show killing 841 wolves from 2005 to 2012 has barely managed to stabilize the threatened herd living in a region that’s 95 per cent disturbed by industry. The cull continues and the estimated number of dead wolves is now more than 900. Critics say “collateral damage” to other animals eating the poison is inestimable.

Scammell and Rodtka believe the government is needlessly targeting wolves because it’s unwilling to curb unchecked forestry and energy developments that are destroying caribou habit. Conservationists say all the tree removal has actually caused “wolf highways” to be created into the forest.

The provincial government’s bias towards industry at the expense of the environment is causing the strong opposition to Alberta pipeline projects in B.C. and the U.S., according to Scammell.

“This is what’s causing Alberta’s tremendous pipeline problems. This will be noticed all over the world, especially in the U.S.,” predicted the columnist, whose opinion pieces run in various Alberta newspapers, including the Advocate.

“People will say, ‘We don’t want that sort of stuff happening here’ — and the Alberta government just doesn’t get it.”

The Little Smoky herd is made up of only about 70 caribou — a protected species that cannot be hunted in the province. The animals are managing to exist on land near the Little Smoky River that’s scarred by forestry cut blocks, seismic lines and other energy developments.

After all the effort, including killing 200 moose and elk for poisoned bait, Rodtka said hardly any more caribou calves are being produced compared to nine years ago. Meanwhile, he believes the culling program will likely trigger remaining wolves to produce larger litters as natural compensation.

The scientific report compared herd numbers before and after the cull and found the population has barely crept up. While killing wolves has stopped caribou decline, the herd is not significantly growing.

Prompted by a mandate from Ottawa to keep the emblematic Canadian animal from disappearing, the Alberta government embarked on the annual cull of 45 per cent of wolves in the area northwest of Edmonton. Besides being shot from helicopters, wolves are being killed with poisoned carcasses left in the forest.

Conservationists are alarmed this approach is eliminating biodiversity in the region, as many other smaller animals, including eagles, ravens, foxes, fishers and other scavengers are also eating the poisoned meat — as reported by in a recent article in Alberta Sportsmen Magazine. “It sends shivers up my spine. … It’s an absolute disaster,” said Scammell.

Jim Robertson, executive director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society, doubts the cull will do any long-term good. “It’s a people problem, not a wolf problem,” he said, noting such culls have historically caused problems in Banff and around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, tipping the natural balance. He warned that better habitat protection would yield better future benefits.

But Duncan MacDonnell, a public affairs officer for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, believes the provincial government is doing its best to comply with a federal mandate to protect a threatened species. “After years of population decline, the program has managed to maintain caribou survival,” he added — so it has been a success.

“We want to keep caribou in the landscape.”

He hasn’t heard anything about the collateral poisoning of other forest species. And he doesn’t know if other provinces are culling wolves to protect their caribou, saying “I have no idea. We have enough to worry about with the complexities of this problem here.”

Comparisons to past wolf culls in Yellowstone and Banff are not useful, according to MacDonnell, since these were meant to help elk, “and they are nothing like caribou” — which are considered complex animals with lower reproductive rates.

The provincial government isn’t ignoring the impact of industry, he maintained. MacDonnell suggested a more comprehensive, sustainable approach to keeping caribou herds in Alberta will be presented in a wide-ranging plan due in 2017.

The first part, dealing with the Little Smoky herd, is expected by next year. “It will deal with the whole picture and look at all factors in caribou survival,” said MacDonnell.

Meanwhile, he stressed the government is not removing all wolves, but needs to decrease caribou mortality until a more comprehensive approach can be adopted.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Marcus Golczyk, with Taco Monster, hands food to a customer during Food Truck Drive and Dash in the Westerner Park parking lot in Red Deer Friday afternoon. The drive-thru event will run every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through June. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff
Food Truck Fridays, Food Truck Drive and Dash return in Red Deer

Red Deerians are able to take in a drive-thru food truck experience… Continue reading

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault chairs a premiers virtual news conference as premiers John Horgan, B.C., Jason Kenney, Alberta, and Scott Moe, Saskatchewan, are seen onscreen, Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Several provinces bring in new restrictions as high COVID-19 case numbers persist

Several provinces are gearing up to tighten public health measures once again… Continue reading

Members of the RCAF take part in a Royal Canadian Air Force change of command ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 4, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a longstanding shortage of experienced aviators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
RCAF turns to foreign pilots to help with shortage as commercial aviators stay away

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open… Continue reading

An arrivals and departures information screen is seen at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The chief executive of Atlantic Canada's largest airport is hoping for COVID-19 testing for arriving passengers "sooner rather than later," as an added measure to combat the province's third wave of the virus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Halifax airport CEO hopes for more on-site COVID testing ‘sooner rather than later’

HALIFAX — The chief executive of Atlantic Canada’s largest airport is hoping… Continue reading

Shoppers wear mask as they shop at a nursery & garden shop on Mother's Day weekend during COVID-19 pandemic in Wilmette, Ill., Saturday, May 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Tearful reunions mark second Mother’s Day under pandemic

Last Mother’s Day, they celebrated with bacon and eggs over FaceTime. This… Continue reading

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, standing, watches the game during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. The Wild won 5-2. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Tocchet won’t return as coach of Coyotes after 4 seasons

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes and coach Rick Tocchet have mutually… Continue reading

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella shouts at an official after a fight between Columbus Blue Jackets' s Gavin Bayreuther and Florida Panthers' Sam Bennett during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Tortorella out after 6 years as Columbus Blue Jackets coach

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Tortorella is out as coach of the Columbus… Continue reading

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada's vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel's approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

JASPER, Alta. — A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing… Continue reading

The smouldering remains of houses in Slave Lake, Alta., are seen in a May 16, 2011, file photo. The wildfire that is devastating large swaths of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray comes just five years after another blaze destroyed 400 buildings and left 2,000 people homeless in Slave Lake, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
Ten years later: Five things to know about the Slave Lake wildfire

A wildfire burned about one-third of Slave Lake in northern Alberta in… Continue reading

Most Read