Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Category Archives: Conservation

Canadian Government Slaughtering Wolves In Favour Of Oilsands

The deadline for Canadians to comment on the federal government’s massive wolf-kill caribou recovery strategy is February 22, 2012. For most Alberta boreal woodland caribou herds, the wolf-kill strategy would allow 95% of their habitat to be destroyed. Tar sands and other oil-gas activities in those herds’ ranges would not be disturbed. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is inviting Canadians to ask Environment Minister Peter Kent to protect the habitat caribou require for long-term survival and recovery, rather than encouraging decades-long poisoning and shooting of many thousands of wolves.

“Because of ongoing mismanagement of caribou habitat, Environment Canada’s data shows Alberta’s herds are by far the most vulnerable to being wiped out in all of Canada,” says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist. “This proposal will allow 95% habitat loss and many decades of massive scale wolf kills, for most Alberta herds. This is an absurd and deeply unethical strategy that sacrifices both wolves and caribou to unmanaged energy industry growth.”

In the name of caribou recovery, hundreds of wolves have already been poisoned and shot from helicopters in northwestern Alberta. The federal government’s draft caribou recovery strategy is now calling for a massive expansion of this approach. “There is no reason to think that killing wolves will recover caribou,” says Campbell. “Only protecting caribou habitat will achieve that.”

In healthy forests, wolf predation does not significantly affect caribou, points out Campbell. “These caribou are spread thinly across the landscape and do not support wolf populations in themselves,” she says. Industrial development upsets this fine balance, bringing in larger numbers of other prey such as deer and moose and creating easy access corridors for wolves, resulting in more caribou being killed by wolves. Scientific studies agree that the only long-term solution for caribou is to have enough intact habitat to allow them to remain separated from deer, moose and wolves.

AWA asks Canadians to call on Environment Minister Kent to set sensible limits on forest disturbance in caribou ranges, and restore necessary habitat, as the first focus of the recovery strategy, rather than encourage massive wolf kills.

For more information:
Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist, Alberta Wilderness Association 

Community Office Ottawa Office
7600 Yonge Street Peter Kent
Thornhill, Ontario 401 Confederation Building
L4J 1V9 House of Commons
Phone:  (905) 886.9911 Ottawa, Ontario. K1A 0A6
FAX:  (905) 886.5267 Phone: (613) 992.0253
Fax: (613) 992.0887
eMail: kentp@parl.gc.ca

Using Citizen Science To Conserve The Wolverine

You should know now that wolverines will be featured often on this blog. The animal wolverine, not the one with the metal blades in his hands.

These almost-mythical, cantankerous denizens of the deep boreal forest are my favorite carnivore. My Wild Carnivore website has been sending a percentage of proceeds from the sale of my wolverine t shirt to The Wolverine Foundation since I started the site. I have books, videos and scientific papers on wolverines. If you’re reading this blog, get ready for wolverines.

The Alberta Conservation Association is working on a field research project using non-scientists to gather data:

Project goals: to engage non-scientists in conservation actions through participating in the collection of information on a data-deficient species; to protect key wilderness areas in the face of expanding human pressures and a changing climate; to increase the public’s understanding of the importance of intact wilderness to the Canadian identity

The wolverine is an icon of Canadian wilderness. They are most commonly associated with areas where human disturbance is low, but we know relatively little about why this is or what future development and climate change might mean to this species. They will battle a grizzly bear for food, but will they be able to take on industrial development or changing snow conditions? Volunteers and citizen science can help us find out. For this project, volunteers from the Alberta Trappers’ Association will participate in a unique initiative by collecting information on where wolverines live, the type of habitat that is important, and the obstacles they face in an uncertain future. Trappers, who wish to protect wilderness for future generations, will identify wolverine tracks and monitor remote camera stations. The non-invasive (live) collection of hair samples from hair snag stations will provide DNA. Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) biologists will use these pieces of information to assess habitat occupancy and population size. Habitat change modelling predictions and location information from collared wolverines will be incorporated into our online communication to show the size of area and habitat features that need to be protected for wolverine populations to remain healthy. This will be part of an education campaign to engage the public in protecting key wilderness areas. ACA will ensure that volunteer-produced information is collected consistently and accurately. This will enable us to combine the best on-the-ground knowledge with scientific data to produce results that will be accepted and understood by a wide audience.

The latest Project Update reveals how they managed to capture DNA samples by clipping some hair from a male wolverine. Not the usual method, but it appears to be effective! Check their rare photographs of a wild wolverine.

Wolf Conservation Helps Songbirds

The world’s large predators – bears, tigers, lions – are in trouble. They are disappearing worldwide, on a fast slide towards extinction. The smaller carnivores of the world are on the same slide, just at a slower rate.

Scientific consensus is now emerging to show these animals are crucial to the functioning of a healthy ecosystem. Food chain effects caused by adding or removing a top species are known as “trophic cascades,” and evidence is accumulating:

-overhunting of sea otters caused the collapse of kelp forests, as without predation by otters, the sea urchin population exploded and the feed on kelp

-when jaguars and pumas fled a valley flooded by construction of a dam in Venezuela, howler monkeys multiplied out of control and went mad as the plants they ate increased toxins in self defense

-the wolf’s return to Yellowstone National Park and their predation on elk gave willow and other trees the chance to grow along streams, cooling water temperatures for trout and encouraging the return of the beaver, whose ponds are vital for songbirds and amphibians

-a reduction of lion and leopard populations in Ghana led to an explosion of baboons that attacked livestock, damaged crops and spread internal parasites to the human population

It’s not just the loss of the large predators that can have an effect on human health. Small wild cats, birds of prey, coyotes and other carnivores feed on mice and rats that destroy crops and spread disease.

In spite of all the scientific evidence, governments in many countries – among them Canada and the USA (wolves) and Argentina (puma) – are still adamant that predators be wiped out. They are still  the scapegoats for anything that goes wrong in nature, and their removal is the first knee-jerk reaction taken by officials.

It’s time governments started acknowledging the scientific evidence showing we have to pay attention to the well being of predators if we want healthy ecosystems, and a healthy planet.

See also:

The Crucial Role of Predators 

Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth

Trophic Cascades

Bushmeat Hunting Is Changing Ecosystems

For thousands of years, people living in the world’s rain forests have hunted animals to feed themselves. Wild game is a vital source of protein for indigenous people, and traditional hunting practices were balanced with the biodiversity levels of the forest. But this is no longer the case.

Bushmeat poachers are now emptying rain forests, using automatic rifles and wiping out entire animal populations. The meat is exported to Europe, the USA and other countries, and organized crime figures are often involved in the trade. Logging companies have opened up new access roads, allowing the poachers to reach ever further into the forest.

There is no way the wildlife populations can sustain this level of slaughter. The numbers are horrifying.

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports more than one billion individual animals were imported into the United States from 2000 to 2004, along with over 11 million pounds of bushmeat and other animal products.
  • A study in Europe has recently found about 270 tonnes of illegal bushmeat could be passing through Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport each year, and that’s just one European airport.
  • Up to a million tonnes of bushmeat is consumed in the Congo Basin each year, representing 80 percent of all meat eaten in the region

Lush jungle canopy growth is becoming increasingly silent as the wild species are wiped out. Now it seems the jungle canopy itself is at risk from the effects of excessive bushmeat hunting.

A team of scientists from the National Museum of Natural History in France has surveyed seeds and seedlings in two different areas in the Central African Republic. In one area, nearly all large mammals have been wiped out. The other area has similar soil, plant species and climate, but still has a healthy population of large animals.

They found the site without large mammals had less plant diversity and lower numbers of medium and large seeds. Vegetation is becoming increasingly dense, and without the competition from large trees, small plants are beginning to thrive.

By exterminating the large mammals, poachers are throwing the plant community out of balance. Larger animals disperse larger seeds, and by removing them, hunters are essentially weeding out the trees and shrubs with big seeds and allowing small-seeded species to take over. The result is a less diverse forest, with unnaturally thick vegetation.

Entire ecosystems are on the verge of collapse due to the illegal bushmeat trade. The strands of the complex, interwoven web of life in the rain forests have been separated, and cannot be put back together.

The question is, as humans are at the top of every ecosystem, will we be able to adapt fast enough to survive? Or is the rampant bushmeat trade ultimately going to lead to forests empty of human footprints as well?