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 with Rob Miskosky

Hunters and Trappers Share the Blame

There are many misconceptions about those who own registered traplines for trapping purposes and those who own them for recreational purposes. Now, I’m not sure how many fall into the latter category, but I am sure there are a few. However, I would offer that there isn’t nearly as many improperly used traplines in Alberta as some would suggest.

A recent thread on the Alberta Outdoorsmen Forum ( saw the original poster (OP) claim that trappers weren’t trapping wolves to any great extent and because of that, ungulate populations, namely sheep, were taking it on the chin.

According to the OP, Alberta’s excessive wolf population is the trappers’ fault; again, because in this person’s mind, most traplines in Alberta are solely being used for recreational purposes, mostly hunting, and not for trapping purposes.

To set the record straight, I have written about trapline abuse in Alberta, suggesting that those not turning in fur harvest records without legitimate reason should be required to make their traplines active or risk losing them. And I, as well as the Alberta Trappers’ Association, still firmly believe this.

But to suggest that trappers are the sole reason for Alberta’s wolf problem is ludicrous and given without thought.

“Both hunters and trappers need to share the blame when it comes to Alberta’s burgeoning wolf population. It is estimated that 7000 wolves currently travel Alberta’s many roads, pipelines and clearcuts.”
It is estimated there are between 5000 and 7000 wolves currently plying their trade in Alberta. According to the Alberta Trapping Regulations, of those 5000-7000 wolves, 574 wolf pelts were sold at auction during the 2012-13 season. This equates out to about an 8% reduction in Alberta’s wolf population, if we use 7000 as the current population number. Which according to Nate Webb, Provincial Carnivore Specialist, is correct.

“We estimate the fall wolf population is approximately 7000 wolves,” said Webb.

Considering Alberta’s wolf population management goal is 4000 wolves, that’s 3000 wolves too many.

“We are currently going through a process to update the provincial wolf management plan, which may include revising the population goal,” Webb wrote in an email.

According to the Alberta Wilderness Association, “To maintain this number of wolves, healthy populations of hoofed mammals are required. It is estimated that at least 200,000 ungulates are needed to supply 30,000 prey animals annually to a population of 4,000 wolves.”

So, if there are 7000 wolves currently on the Alberta landscape, then the number of prey animals rises dramatically from 30,000 to more than 50,000. That’s a lot of meat.

Now, let’s consider why Alberta has such a healthy wolf population. For starters, the oil and gas industry has created thousands of miles of easy travel routes through pipelines and roads, which wolves use for hunting. As well, vast areas of forest have been logged, creating favourable areas for moose, elk and deer. As large numbers of ungulates expand into these areas, so too does the number of wolves. Easy access and open areas have given wolves the upper hand when hunting, which in turn fosters healthy wolf packs resulting in healthy wolf recruitment.

According to Alberta’s Wolf Management Plan, based on trapper fur affidavits that must be filled out each year, trappers account for approximately 388 wolf kills per year, while hunters contribute an estimated 100 wolf kills per year, on average. Again, according to Alberta’s Wolf Management Plan, government objectives for wolf control would see 900 wolves taken by trappers and 300 taken by hunters.

These wolf control objectives are far higher on both spectrums than what the current wolf harvest is by both trappers and hunters. Considering Alberta has more than 111,000 hunters and about 3000 trappers, I submit that trappers are doing a better job than hunters are when it comes to wolf management. However, hunters and trappers could both do a better job.

Unfortunately, the effort involved in trapping wolves far outweighs the economic benefits. There isn’t a strong market for wolf pelts, which are generally very course and of low quality, and trappers must balance their costs to their fur take if they wish to maintain a cost-effective trapping operation. Harvesting wolves can hinder that process. As well, wolves are difficult to trap, as they are incredibly keen and efficient creatures. Trappers are also hindered in areas where grizzly bears exist, as snares cannot be used until December, and footholds require a constant presence by the trapper, which is generally not possible.

As for the hunter, setting out baits can be time-consuming and expensive but logically, the only successful way for hunting wolves. Unfortunately, by the end of November, the vast majority of hunters have already put away their guns.

Put all together, we are failing in wolf control. Both trappers and hunters need to take some responsibility where wolves are concerned, and the blame needs to be shared, not solely shouldered by the trapper. ■

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