Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2018 (745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A recent Free Press story ("Wolves feasting on cattle: ‘A huge problem,’" on Oct. 31) requires more of a science-based perspective.
To begin, we must recognize that since European colonization, North America’s approach to wildlife management has focused on eradicating large carnivores or maintaining them at artificially low densities. The tools for this included poison and bounties, which continue in parts of Canada to the detriment of carnivores and the ecosystems they have evolved within.
There is growing understanding that wolves and other carnivores are an intrinsically valuable and an ecologically important component of intact ecosystems. In areas where the land is still whole enough, wolves are recolonizing the landscape they belong to. While this may provide some challenges, it is certainly worth celebrating from an ecological perspective.
If livestock-wolf conflicts are indeed increasing, a big part of this likely has to do with changes in husbandry practices after predators were killed off. Cattle have been left unsupervised in many areas following wolf extermination. Gone are the age-old methods of monitoring and doctoring domestic herds, which are often placed in areas that interface with wilderness zones. By maintaining a human presence, range-riders, shepherds and herders can deter carnivores and intervene to "teach" animals to stay away. A combination of new technology and traditional cultural practices are providing many "predator-friendly ranchers" with effective solutions that prevent and minimize losses. But a dead wolf won’t learn anything.
Following the outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003, Canada abandoned government-funded carcass removal programs. This challenge and cost fell on producers. Deadstock can attract carnivores to areas where cattle graze and may facilitate a new and easy meal. This is akin to creating a welcome buffet by baiting carnivores into the proximity of livestock.
The story made claims that an increasing number of depredation events are occurring. How many of these claims were verified by trained professionals? How much conflict prevention is occurring where these situations are unfolding? And how can this be prevented?
Studies across North America and beyond are providing mounting evidence to show that lethal control of wolves is ineffective and can even lead to increased conflicts when compared to changing husbandry practices and utilizing non-lethal preventive measures.
If producers are experiencing high numbers of calves being lost to predators, why are vulnerable calves not being monitored more closely? Several producers experience little or no losses by using a combination of methods that include synchronized and shorter calving periods, night corrals, turbo-fladry (lines with strips of coloured fabric that flap in the wind and deter wolves), livestock guardian dogs and range riding.
I agree with the Manitoba Beef Producers director’s statement that a plan is due; however, a sensible plan would focus on educating producers about prevention-based methods and facilitate support with incentives to make these methods feasible. This is in stark contrast with the stance in the Oct. 31 article that "producers want more incentives to make it worthwhile (to kill wolves)," which often results in more problems, not less. Ignoring the behaviour and biology of wolves leads to negative ecological repercussions, as well as more livestock losses.
Maintaining the social stability of apex predators, or allowing them to do so, is critical for best management practices when it comes to reducing conflicts between humans and carnivores. Socially stable carnivore populations are easier to coexist with because they are more predictable. We should not ignore the biology and behaviour of carnivores if we want to minimize conflicts and co-flourish.
Aside from their inherent intrinsic values, wolves and other apex predators (species at the top of the food chain) provide invaluable and irreplaceable ecological benefits. They have a disproportionately important role through top-down effects that shape entire ecosystems. Direct influences on herbivores and smaller consumers trickle down to stabilize vegetation structure, maintain diversity and mediate large-scale processes like carbon sequestration and hydrological cycles that characterize the diverse landscapes in our province and country.
No doubt humans will continue to find reasons to justify disdain of predators, but at the end of the day, these beings have evolved over millennia as an integral part of nature. They will continue to play their role in maintaining biodiversity, but only if we have sense enough to allow them to. Non-lethal approaches are proving to have better outcomes for livestock, wildlife and people.
Sadie Parr is the executive director of Wolf Awareness Inc.