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02/13/2012

Culling Wolves In Order to Promote Tar Sands Development

Wolf - by Larry AllanThis piece is cross-posted on the Sierra Club's Compass blog.

Tar sands development in Alberta, Canada, has recently been tied directly to habitat destruction and declining caribou populations. Canada’s woodland caribou is listed as a threatened species, provincially as well as federally, and the dramatic expansion of tar sands in recent years is severely impacting this already vulnerable species. Yet instead of dealing with the real problems affecting Caribou, the Canadian government is blaming the caribou’s decline on wolves.

According to the Pembina Institute, a Canadian non-profit think tank that advances clean energy solutions, “95% of woodland caribou habitat in northeastern Alberta is to be lost in order to promote oil sands development.”

A study conducted by Samuel Wasser of the Center for Conservation Biology found that many oil extracting operations take place in the same areas that caribou use to graze. During the wintertime when oil production activity is at its peak, caribou food sources are hard to come by, causing serious distress among the herds.

An even more disturbing report by the Alberta Caribou Committee found that the continued expansion of the tar sands industry “will cause the complete collapse of caribou populations living in the Boreal forest.” It is clear that in order to protect and revive this species immediate action must be taken to restore their lost habitats.

But where are Canadian officials focusing the blame? Rather than dealing with the issue of caribou habitat fragmentation and loss, they have decided to directly target wolves which prey on caribou. Specifically, Canadian wildlife officials are poisoning wolves with strychnine-laced bait. Strychnine is a deadly poison known for an excruciating death that progresses painfully from muscle spasms to convulsions to suffocation, over a period of hours.

WolfThe poisonous bait will be spread on the ground as well as dropped from airplanes in areas that are known to be inhabited by wolves. Other animals such as cougars, raptors and wolverines will also be poisoned as they search for food and scavenge the remains of already poisoned animals.

This will not be the first time that wolves have been culled in Alberta. Ed Struzik, Canadian author and Arctic specialist reported that “the government of Alberta has spent more than $1 million poisoning wolves with strychnine and shooting them from the air.” More than 500 wolves have been killed in this manner over the past five years.

Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute believes that many thousands of wolves will be killed through Canada’s dispersion of strychnine-laced bait. Canada Environment Minister Peter Kent supports this method of senseless killing. According to Kent “culling is an accepted if regrettable scientific practice and means of controlling populations and attempting to balance what civilization has developed.”

It is clear that wolves are not the problem here. The expansion of the tar sands industry has adversely impacted and threatened caribou through the destruction and fragmentation of their habitats which has subsequently affected food supply.

In order to protect vulnerable caribou herds, Canadian officials must direct their attention and resources away from poisoning wolves. They must focus on creating and implementing environmental practices which mitigate the destruction tar sands production has on caribou population size, health and habitat.

Above all else, the tar sands industry and its supporters must take responsibility for the wildlife destruction and devastation they have caused in the Boreal forests of Alberta.

-- Samantha Beckerman, Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign. Wolf photo by Larry Allan.

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