Despite ongoing criticism, the Alberta government is continuing with its wolf cull for another three years in an ongoing effort to save endangered caribou.
The province has just closed a request for proposal for a helicopter to continue a program to track, capture and fit caribou and wolves with radio collars through the use of net-gunning between October and March each year.
It also includes shooting wolves from the helicopter.
“In the absence of effective measures to reduce the mortality and eliminate the negative population spiral, there’s not going to be any caribou left,” said Dave Hervieux, caribou specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks. “The wolves are at an all-time high.
“There’s no conservation issue there,” he said.
Under federal law, Alberta is required to complete plans to protect caribou habitat by October 2017.
Hervieux said the wolf cull fits in with the plans, noting they will kill between 100 and 200 wolves each year in the west central area of the province alone.
Concerns have been raised that the cull might be expanded into provincial parks, but Hervieux said that’s not part of the plan.
“It can stray into some wildland parks but not in provincial parks,” he said. “We haven’t needed to do that.”
Either way, the program has already been controversial due to concerns it’s inhumane.
“It’s unfortunate that they are continuing it,” said Paul Paquet, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and carnivore specialist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
He said there are moral and ethical questions, but the “science continues to be very, very poor as to the justifications of wolf control.”
Paquet said all of the ways being used to kill wolves — aerial gunning and poison — are inhumane and fail to meet the Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines, which the province supports.
Both methods don’t quickly and humanely kill wolves, he suggested.
“It’s hard to target an animal that’s moving quickly when you’re in a helicopter,” said Paquet, noting poisons such as strychnine are worse. “It’s a horrible poison … you actually die from oxygen deprivation.”
Secondly, there’s a question about whether the wolf cull is even helping to save caribou.
Hervieux said there’s simply no other option to save the endangered species, noting 80 per cent of the cull is done through aerial gunning and the rest is poisoning the animals with strychnine.
“What are the options? There aren’t any,” he suggested.
Paquet said there’s still no proof it’s actually saving caribou.
“I don’t think, thus far, that the evidence (on) killing wolves and reducing their populations is really achieving very much,” he said. “The areas where they didn’t kill wolves, the herds of caribou there are responding in exactly the same way as where they were killing them.”
Most experts agree the real problem for caribou has been the reduction of their habitat due to industrial use.
The province has started addressing the restoration of habitat by halting the sale of mineral rights in all caribou ranges until “stringent operating practices” have been defined.
They’ve also accepted a report to protect an additional 1.8 million hectares of woodland caribou range in northern Alberta and work to increase populations in central Alberta.