Alberta accused of launching ‘war on wolves’
By The Canadian Press
Published: March 27, 2008 8:38 PM
Updated: March 27, 2008 8:38 PM
CALGARY — Alberta is being accused of launching a “war on wolves” by using strychnine poison to keep pack sizes low, just weeks after a controversial research plan came to light that proposes sterilizing adults and destroying the younger animals.
The Calgary-based Alberta Wilderness Association said the deadly poison is one of the province’s anti-wolf weapons in a misguided effort to save an endangered caribou herd.
The group says the most common method being used is “aerial control” that involves shooting animals from a helicopter.
Alberta says it has killed 62 wolves so far this winter — and more than 215 in the past three years — in ongoing efforts to protect the dwindling Little Smoky caribou northwest of Hinton near the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s directed at caribou specifically and it’s certainly not the solution,” Nigel Douglas, association spokesman, said Wednesday.
“It might be a short-term, stop-gap thing while you’re addressing the real sort of habitat issues, but basically nothing’s been done to address the habitat problems.”
Douglas said Alberta has actually been selling more oil and gas leases in the area recently “even though we know that’s the reason why caribou are in trouble.”
The province admits that it uses ‘toxicants’ as one method of controlling the wolf population in the northwestern foothills, but says the animal can easily grow its numbers by about 30 per cent yearly if there’s enough food.
The poison bait is carefully set by trained professionals who specifically try to minimize incidental deaths of “non-target animals,” said Dave Ealey, spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
Strychnine poisoning causes muscles throughout the body to go into severe, painful spasms until the muscles are exhausted and breathing stops. Other species will also take the poisonous bait such as cougar, wolverine, fisher, coyotes, and eagles.
The helicopter cull is the preferred method but good snow conditions are required, he said.
“And early on in the winter time, when there may be value in us being able to remove wolves early — where we can reduce the likelihood of them having an impact on pregnant caribou — we can basically do a better job if we use the toxicants.”
Ealey said poison is also used to take down wolves that are not part of a specific pack but still a threat to caribou in the area.
Another environmental group, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, only recently learned that Alberta was poisoning wolves with strychnine.
“I was really surprised — I had no idea they’d turn to that,” said Helene Walsh of the Northern Alberta chapter in Edmonton.
“They certainly didn’t seem very willing to let it out. It’s pretty awful.”
Public details of the wolf poisoning program follows just weeks after word of a planned research project to sterilize adults and destroy younger wolves west of Red Deer triggered an outcry across the province.