I expect long after woodland caribou are wiped out, Alberta will continue poisoning wolves even though it was proven decades ago how vital key predators like wolves are to healthy ecosystems. Abusive gov’ts kill wolves in Canada for no reason other than to feed ego and cruelty, and pretend to be protecting a species human greed is wiping out.
Alberta must save caribou with habitat preservation, not poison by Charlotte Dawe, Dec 09, 2021, Edmonton Journal
There’s an iniquitous secret in the forests of Alberta. Poison traps bait unsuspecting wildlife causing shockwaves of death like a landmine. The boreal forest supports an abundance of life, from caribou to grizzlies to wolves. The air feels unique within the spacey pines, and the forest is distinct with the sound of crunchy footsteps walking along the lichen-covered floor. But this place, once teeming with intact wilderness and balanced diversity is now tainted with traps.
Strychnine poison has caused unimaginably painful deaths to so many wild creatures trying to survive. And your money is paying for it. This is an ongoing program by the Alberta government.
Out of a helicopter, employees of the Alberta government scan the remote wilderness trying to find a moose. When they do, they take their guns and shoot them from the sky. The moose dies and that’s just the start. They bait the moose meat with strychnine poisoning so that wildlife stumbling upon a seemingly lucky meal will die. Strychnine poison is a terrible way to go, causing painful and prolonged muscle spasms, all while remaining conscious until eventually the animal suffocates. It’s also deadly to humans and ought to be illegal. But it’s not, even though 69 per cent of Canadians say the risks posed by these poisons are unacceptable. It’s shameful to know that governments willingly put wildlife through such pain.
The reason for this remorseless process is under the guise of caribou protection. According to the Alberta government, this is needed to maintain low wolf numbers to protect caribou. But the poison isn’t selective to just wolves. Around the government-placed bait sites, concerned locals have documented collateral deaths of animals other than wolves. The poison ripples through the food chain.
Animals that eat the moose meat die with poison in their bodies, which poisons the next animals feeding on them, and it goes on and on until the poison levels dwindle below a lethal dose. Animals found at government strychnine bait sites include, but are not limited to, bald eagles, golden eagles, coyotes, foxes, skunks, lynx, grizzly bears, cougars and even caribou.
Don’t get me wrong; I want to save caribou more than anything. But that’s not what this is. The solution to saving caribou is not as simple as poisoning the land. Caribou need intact, safe habitat to survive. And despite decades of killing wolves for caribou survival, the herds are still dwindling, a clear indication it’s more than just wolves causing caribou decline.
In October, the ground begins to freeze here, and bright yellow tamarack needles dust the ground and then frost and then feet of snow. This temporal calendar would also mark the beginning of the caribou migration. Caribou used to show up like clockwork, migrating down from the mountains to the valleys below for the winter.
Folks living near Grande Cache remember their habitual encounters with caribou along Highway 40, which intersects their migration corridor. But lately, their migration is unpredictable and sometimes, they don’t show up at all. Their patterns are more difficult to predict, indicating their historical habitat is no longer useful or safe in the way it once was. When you zoom out and look at the habitat condition of their historical range, it’s pretty simple to understand what’s happened. Clearcut after clearcut. Seismic line after seismic line. It looks like cross-hatching, and in many areas, the white patches of clearcuts outnumber the green patches of forest left.
When the Alberta government is asked about using strychnine, they defend themselves by saying they’re trying to avoid the extinction of an “iconic” species. That sounds great, but if this were really their goal, they would think twice about greenlighting the obliteration of caribou habitat. In fact, not a single acre of their migration habitat has been protected.
The opposite is the reality. Kenney’s government is desperate to log caribou habitat and are directing West Fraser to log 54 cutblocks in the migratory range of the A la Peche caribou herd. It’s hard to fathom the immensity of the proposed logging plan. Normally, logging plans this size would take a company 10 years to complete. They want to do it in two. They are cutting almost all primary forest in the area that hasn’t already been logged. This would effectively remove the most usable old forest for caribou. If this happens, residents will likely say goodbye to their caribou encounters in the fall as the migration corridor will be levelled.
You might be wondering why the Alberta government is even trying to protect caribou given their “I-don’t-care-about-anything-except-industry” track record. If it weren’t for the federal Species at Risk Act demanding the province do something for caribou, they probably wouldn’t do anything at all. Their wolf cull approach has checked a box on caribou recovery to appease the federal government from stepping in with emergency protections.
When a government and lead biologist fail as badly as they have with caribou, there needs to be accountability. It’s disrespecting wilderness, wildlife and local community members who rely on safe and healthy ecosystems. It’s not an effective or ethical way to save caribou because populations would stop dwindling if it were. Their reckless approach has made other critters pay with their lives. We need new biologists working in government who respect wildlife, understand ecosystem complexities, and have the courage to address habitat loss. Research tells us without habitat protection, a wolf cull just delays extinction.
The Alberta government needs to get their poisoned hands out of the wild so that ecosystem health can be restored. If they’re serious about saving caribou herds, they will need to stop being a corporate puppet and protect remaining habitat from destruction.
Charlotte Dawe is conservation and policy campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.