National Wolf Awareness Week -How Far Have We Come?

CANADA—National Wolf Awareness Week is upon us October 9th -15th.  Habitat loss and fragmentation combined with direct human persecution of wolves has put this iconic animal in a position where conservation efforts and education about this species are critical in Canada.

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Sadie Parr, executive director of the non-profit organization Wolf Awareness tells us,

“The grey wolf, Canis lupus, is one of the most studied animals across the globe. Yet for all of the understanding gained about this animal in recent decades, wolves still remain as one of the most misunderstood, controversial and highly persecuted animals on the planet.  We continue to fail to put contemporary knowledge into practice, let alone wildlife policy”.

Parr continues,

“Wildlife management continues to be driven by select special interest groups with disproportionately loud voices.  British Columbia and Alberta still operate 1940’s style when it comes to wolf management.”

Up until the 1970’s, Canada included itself in efforts across North America as European settlers sought to eradicate wolves and other predators from many parts of the continent.  Killing methods were what Parr refers to as “chaotic, random, and vicious” – involving poison campaigns, aerial gunning and bounty killing programs. 

Peter A Dettling photo wolfawareness.com
Peter A Dettling photo wolfawarenessinc.org

“In many regions these death crusades were successful.  Vast numbers of wolves and other carnivores were killed, many dying a horrific and lingering death at the hands of the toxins Strychnine and Compound 1080.”

While delicate, Nature can also be resilient.  Where the landscape is still whole enough to support them, wolves are returning to their ancestral habitat.  But these wolves are far from being welcomed by all who encounter them. Some attitudes remain cloaked in the dark ages and determined to be antagonistic, despite new understandings of the positive influences wolves have on ecosystem health, the inherent values and intrinsic worth of all beings, and the potential for economic benefits through sustainable wildlife tourism. 

“Although this apex predator plays a vital role in Nature, wolves still struggle to find safety in most parts of Canada,” explains Sadie Parr.  “Hunting and trapping regulation are extremely lax, systematically legitimize the killing of thousands of wolves each year for “recreation”.  On top of this, Alberta and British Columbia hire staff to shoot wolves from helicopters in a failing experiment to increase caribou numbers under the guise of conservation.”

The list of archaic practices includes darker things better left in the past such as bounty-killing programs (Saskatchewan and Alberta), and the use of harmful and unselective poisons such as Strychnine and Compound 1080 (Alberta).  Although 1080 users often claim that this poison is specific to canids, Parr states,

“…it can affect everything sharing a food chain and is so dangerous that one teaspoon is sufficient to kill up to 100 adults. While banned in several jurisdictions around the world, Health Canada still permits the use of Compound 1080, as well as Strychnine – an equally inhumane poison used to kill canids.”

Wolves, known to travel several miles each day, are also at threat when walking landscapes that have been baited with neck-killing snares, devices that are considered cruel for the prolonged suffering they cause before a trapped wolf actually dies.  Wolf Awareness executive director Sadie Parr is hopeful for a future where wolves are viewed and treated with respect and as being part of a public trust, stating:

“Killing predators is an irresponsible and unreliable method of increasing prey species populations or reducing conflicts with livestock, and it leads to many negative ecological repercussions including a decrease in the overall diversity of plant and animal species.”

Top predators exert direct and indirect effects on all levels of the food chain, right down to the vegetation and soil, in complex ways that increase biodiversity and ecosystem resiliency.  This is an important message that the organization continues to create awareness around.

Parr explains,

As an apex predator and keystone species, wolves provide benefits to every trophic level in an ecosystem.  This role is not only invaluable; it is also irreplaceable.  Humans have attempted to duplicate the role of top predators, but have found it impossible to mimic or replace the subtleties of nature.” 

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