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 with Rob Miskosky

Big, Bad Wolves! Part II

The North American myth of harmless wolves is deadly! This belief has killed at least three persons in North America alone in the last decade including two bright, well educated young people.
- Valerius Geist, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary.

Those of you who follow this space know that I hold little use for “protectionist” environmentalist/conservationists.

You know who these people are; groups like Y2Y and Defenders of Wildlife who use whatever means they have, including science-based claims that may or may not hold weight, depending on the day, to encourage an uneducated public to stand behind them and their ideals, and perhaps donate a little money in the process. Kind of makes me sick to my stomach.

True environmentalist/conservationists are hunters, trappers and anglers, not the feel-good, save-the-world, haven’t-got-a-clue crowd who have yet to realize that when they bought into the beliefs held by the protectionist regime, they added to the dangers associated with large carnivores habituating to human environments.

A hunted wolf is a wolf that will successfully coexist with humans. Remove that threat and a wolf—or any large carnivore for that matter—will turn its attention to easy prey. It is a situation that many North American jurisdictions find themselves in where the cuddly wolf has been protected, exploited by protectionists for money, and has quickly learned that livestock and pets are fair game. And in some instances, people.

Wolves and cattle are a bad mix.

Remember Kenton Joel Carnegie, the 22-year-old, Geological Engineering student who was killed by wolves in northern Saskatchewan. The young man went for a walk and never returned. His disemboweled body was found later surrounded by wolf tracks; wolves that had habituated to the camp where Carnegie worked. It was obvious what had happened, but even then the protectionist regime tried to shift the blame from wolves.

As written by the Carnegie family, “There has been much controversy regarding his death and much effort expended to defend the behaviour of the wolves and in turn blame the actions of man. Many facts were misrepresented which helped to distort the truth and convince the public to believe that wolves quite simply could not have been responsible for killing a human being.”

We know that wolves cannot be trusted, especially those that are protected. And as such we must consider Alberta’s wolves to at least hold a small semblance of fear of man because they are hunted. But, that fear is dwindling as seen by the number of livestock kills manufactured by wolves in Alberta’s south.

As written by Dr. Mark Boyce and Andrea Morehouse in the July 2009 issue of Alberta Outdoorsmen, “Wolves Eat Cattle”, wolves are a growing concern in the southern portion of our province. As Boyce and Morehouse explain, “We must think outside the box, work together, and put our efforts into new solutions so that we can find ways for coexistence.”

As part of their Alberta Wolf Project—a project initiated by the Fish & Wildlife Division of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) to help determine the extent of wolf-livestock conflicts—the team has shown that during grazing seasons in southwestern Alberta there is need for concern, and it’s a concern that is growing. Wolves are feeding on cattle, and with compensation to ranchers in the thousands of dollars, money better earmarked for other conservation initiatives, something has to be done.

It is suggested that too few wolves are killed each year by hunters and too few wolves are trapped by trappers. In fact, numbers suggest that Alberta hunters remove as few as 100 wolves each year while Alberta trappers remove a mere 400. How accurate these numbers are remains to be seen.

Research has shown that wolves can be harvested annually to the tune of 50% without damaging the population. But wolves are neither easy to hunt nor trap and nobody has ever claimed a wolf to be stupid. In fact, wolves are held in high esteem for their intelligence. Unfortunately, they are a carnivore that uses that intelligence for predation and escape and they are brazen in their use of these skills. Just ask any rancher in southern Alberta.

I, having trapped for ranchers west of Edmonton, know that ranchers hold the wolf in low regard. According to one trapper I talked with, “For most of them (ranchers) a wolf, any wolf, is a threat, and the only good wolf is a dead one. And it’s pretty understandable from their standpoint in that profit margins on a cow are so slim that the loss of a single animal in most years can wipe out any profits to be realized on ten cows.”

So, how do we deal with a burgeoning wolf population and a protectionist regime, including non-government biologists who seem to have their own agendas regarding wolves (read, I know which side my bread is buttered on), and political motives that preclude the killing of wolves for the betterment of a voting public who are happy to know that there are wild wolves running loose outside of urban centers?

For one, beginning this year, SRD has given the green light to the use of electronic calls for hunters to help increase wolf harvests. And while hunters have asked for the legalization of electronic calls for years, the protectionist regime has ensured that public perception of their use would be negative. We’re still waiting for that shoe to drop.

Another initiative is to teach trappers better techniques in trapping wolves. According to Gordie Klassen, president of the Alberta Trappers Association (ATA), this is an ongoing process at his trapper’s college in Debolt, Alberta. Without funding from government, Klassen has taken a lead role in trapper education.

The Dave Unger Trapper’s College—appropriately named by Klassen after a man he admired, who was Alberta’s first fur coordinator and the man who led the creation of the ATA—teaches trappers how to better understand wolves and how to be efficient and effective when trapping them. But Klassen also goes above and beyond the call of duty.

“I offer the course free to all Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers,” said Klassen. “It’s very important to me that the officers understand what their wolf trappers are doing. They have been wonderful to deal with and have by far been the most attentive students in each class. As the front line soldiers in this, they above all others know what is at stake.”

But it all hasn’t been rosy and Alberta’s wolves are a growing problem. And that problem is only compounded by the fact that the protectionist regime continues to make wolf control difficult for wildlife managers, trappers and ranchers.

“The most cost effective wolf management tool the government has is trained wolf trappers who happily buy a licence each year and at no cost to the public go after wolves,” said Klassen, clearly frustrated at the lack of support given to Alberta’s trappers.

“But the ATA has had its annual government funding for trapper education cut without discussion or notification by $46,000.00.

“And because of the fear of an accidental grizzly bear catch, wolf snaring seasons have been shortened by two months. And there is a growing cougar population in Alberta and because of accidental catches there is a fear among trappers that more regulations limiting snaring seasons or the use of snares are coming.

“How can we, as trappers, effectively harvest wolves when in some areas even road kill is difficult to obtain for the purpose of wolf control?

“Trapping wolves is a lot of work and requires preplanning, expensive equipment and a time commitment that most people in Alberta don’t have. To be effective it requires a serious understanding of wolves and what a trapper wants to accomplish.”

Enter Defender of Wildlife Director Jim Pissot, who has promised cooperation with everybody in southern Alberta as long as they don’t kill wolves. Pissot even claims to have made partnerships with concerned groups, including the ATA. According to Klassen, Pissot is once again blowing smoke up everybody’s you know what. “Since we know with certainty that no discussions were held between Defenders of Wildlife and the ATA, we can only suspect that his claims are inflated.”

With so many pulling in different directions, including ranchers, it is easy to understand why Alberta’s wolves are flourishing. It is a battle that needs to be addressed, and soon. Trappers need to be funded to provide the required skills; ranchers need to step up to the plate as does government; and hunters also need to get proactive and do their part. And the protectionist regime just has to get the hell out of the way... before another Kenton Carnegie is laid to rest. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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