Canada’s caribou population are in steep decline. That’s due in part to the destruction of habitat through logging, expanding tar sands production, and other industrial development in the province of Alberta.
But rather than focus on habitat conservation efforts to protect threatened caribou populations in the province, Canadian officials are poisoning and shooting wolves that prey on caribou.
The practice is not new in Alberta. But the stunning decline in Caribou herds is forcing the Canadian government to ramp up culling efforts around Alberta’s oil sands — potentially resulting in the death of 6,000 wolves over the next five years, according to the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank.
Government officials didn’t confirm those figures, but one Canada’s environment minister admitted it would be “very large numbers.”
Environmental organizations are hammering the Canadian government over the killing of wolves, saying that it is proof of the cascading environmental impacts of tar sands production. The National Wildlife Federation released a short report today on the issue:
Two particularly repugnant methods of destroying wolves – shooting wolves from helicopters and poisoning wolves with baits laced with strychnine – would be carried out in response to the caribou declines. 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. Wildlife officials will place strychnine baits on the ground or spread them from aircraft in areas they know wolves inhabit. In addition to wolves, non-target animals like raptors, wolverines and cougars will be at risk from eating the poisoned baits or scavenging on the deadly carcasses of poisoned wildlife.
These methods have already been used in Alberta to kill hundreds of wolves. Now the Canadian government wants to use them to kill thousands more.
According to a report from the Alberta Caribou Committee, it is very possible that increased industrial activity in Alberta — much of it driven by expanding tar sands mining — will cause the complete collapse of caribou populations living in the Boreal forest:
Boreal caribou will not persist for more than two to four decades without immediate and aggressive management intervention. Tough choices need to be made between the management imperative to recover boreal caribou and plans for ongoing bitumen development and industrial land-use.
The Canadian government agrees that caribou populations around Alberta and British Columbia are “very unlikely” to survive due to decades of sustained industrial development in fragile habitat. The dramatic expansion of tar sands is becoming a key driver of this habitat loss.
But rather than slow this type of environmentally-destructive activity to prevent Caribou (and now wolves) from being eviscerated, the Canadian government only plans to continue aggressive expansion of tar sands.