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A wolf in Alberta. (Photo: Sherwood411/flickr/cc)

Human-Driven Extraction Has Doomed Caribou. So Why Are Wolves Paying Deadly Price?

Province engages in controversial wolf-killing to help caribou numbers, but humans 'stay the course with the unsustainable industrial scale fossil fuel extraction'

Andrea Germanos

Alberta's attempt to boost caribou numbers by killing wolves is an inhumane approach that fails to target the root of the problem—the extractivist industries—says a group of scientists.

Explaining how the wolves came to be seen as the problem, Kaleigh Rogers writes at Vice:

See, roads and industrial development built to take advantage of Alberta’s rich natural resources has impacted the woodland habitat, in part allowing wolves to more easily gain access to the caribou herds. While the wolves aren’t to blame, they have been contributing to the diminishing caribou population and nearly wiped them out in some areas, so the government decided to introduce a systematic wolf cull to address the immediate problem.

Controversy erupted in November following the publication of an analysis in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, which, as CBC News reported at the time, assessed

the effect of a seven-year wolf cull in the northwestern Alberta range of the Little Smoky caribou herd -- roughly 70 animals scratching out a living on land 95 per cent disturbed by forestry and energy development. Seismic lines and cutblocks from that development allow wolves deep into the undisturbed portions of the forest, adding further pressure.

In an attempt to keep caribou from disappearing, Alberta began an annual cull of about 45 per cent of the wolves on that range in 2005. By 2012, 841 wolves had been poisoned or shot from helicopters.

The wolf killing managed to keep the caribou population stable, but was just buying time for the caribou, the study found. As Emma Marris wrote in the journal Nature, the caribou population did not show an increase. "Such an increase would require placing new limits on industrial development in Alberta, a conclusion that adds fuel to an ongoing debate about the ecological consequences of human activity in the boreal forest," she wrote of the study.

Scientists from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Universities of Saskatchewan and Victoria say the study puts the spotlight on wolf-killing methods considered inhumane by the Canadian Council of Animal Care (CCAC).

In commentary published this week in the journal Canadian Wildlife Biology and Management, the scientists write:

This study did not meet the CCAC’s guidelines and did not adhere to the Canadian Journal of Zoology’s requirement that all research must be approved by an institutional animal care committee. More broadly, and regardless of the failure of formal safeguards and implicit justifications offered by authors, we should be concerned when researchers impose suffering on wild animals and advocate for such programs to continue. Based on an apparent lack of compliance with CCAC’s guidelines, we believe that this controversial study should never have taken place and should not have been published by the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

"Expedient but inadequate emergency ‘fixes’ have been experimentally implemented to arrest the impending loss of caribou," said co-author Dr. Ryan Brook of the University of Saskatchewan, "but no context can justify methods that impose such suffering."

Dr. Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast Professor at the University of Victoria and science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, added, "Proponents of resource extraction can now announce that a ‘solution’ to the caribou crisis is in hand, enabling additional habitat destruction that harms caribou and wolves. So despite intentions otherwise, wolf control creates greater long-term harm than good to animals and ecosystems, failing a simple test of ethics."

Their commentary follows that of the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), which similarly stated that the November analysis failed to address the root cause of caribou decline: "Forestry and energy footprint in caribou range."

The organization has also criticized the province's continued selling of leases to the fossil fuel industry in areas critical to the caribou's survival.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation executive director Chris Genovali summarized the heart of the problem thusly:

The slaughter of wolves in Alberta is emblematic of an anachronistic and harmful wildlife management paradigm all too prevalent across Canada. It also reflects and is the result of our society's choice to stay the course with the unsustainable industrial scale fossil fuel extraction that is the root cause of the Alberta wolf cull.

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