Fencing large predator-free and competitor-free landscapes for the recovery of woodland caribou in Western Alberta: an ineffective conservation option. Proulx G, Brook RK. Animals. 2017 Jan

By Michele Jarvie

Little Smoky caribou are an endangered species and the province plans to cull wolves and create a predator-free enclosure to boost numbers. Wildlife experts are criticizing the province’s plan to cull wolves and create a predator- and competitor-free caribou area, calling it an “ineffective conservation option.”

Gilbert Proulx, director of science for Alberta-based Alpha Wildlife Research Management Ltd., and Ryan Brook, of the University of Saskatchewan, have published an assessment of Alberta’s caribou recovery program in the scientific journal ANIMALS.They argue a proposal to create a 100-square-kilometre, fenced enclosure on a portion of the Little Smoky caribou range will not increase numbers, will create weaker calves and does nothing to curb habitat loss — which they contend is the real cause of the declining population.

“(It) will likely fail to safeguard the long-term future of this caribou population because it is only aimed at short-term, ineffective strategies that have political appeal and are relatively cheap, but have no basis in science-based ecosystem management,” said Proulx.

“The proposed plan does not include a long-term comprehensive habitat conservation program that will protect and interconnect muskegs that are used by caribou, and restore muskegs that are no longer used by caribou.”

The scientific paper follows the recent publication of an Open Letter to Premier Notley by 19 wildlife professionals, including Proulx, which recommended abandoning the caribou recovery program and wolf cull.

But the province’s woodland caribou specialist says the scientists are selective in characterizing Alberta’s policies and plans, and do not accurately or fairly represent the situation.

Dave Hervieux, who has worked on caribou recovery for 27 years, says there’s no simple answer. But he maintains that the acknowledged critical work of protecting habitat without addressing the “excessive and unnaturally high level of predation” won’t save endangered caribou.

“If we do not protect caribou populations, by the time we address habitat there won’t be any caribou left.”

“We argue that their plan — which seemed like a business plan, something that could be read as a proposal to award work — would not in itself do an adequate job.

“If we do not protect caribou populations, by the time we address habitat there won’t be any caribou left.”

The government’s June 2, 2016, draft plan for the Little Smoky and A La Peche Caribou Range in west-central Alberta proposes a caribou rearing facility, as well as the culling of wolves and other predators and the removal of competitive species. Alberta is required by the federal government to manage 65 per cent of critical caribou habitat by October 2017.
A male wolf roams the tundra near The Meadowbank Gold Mine located Nunavut on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. Scientists raising questions about the ethics of Alberta’s wolf cull are calling it cruel and unnecessary.

“The Little Smoky population is on the most disturbed boreal range in Canada. It was headed to be extirpated. By now, it would have ceased to exist,” said Hervieux. “We’re successful in that (the) population still exists.”

The 19 scientists from across Canada, the U.S., Denmark and Australia contend habitat restoration is less costly and more effective. “A project to save caribou doesn’t need to have fencing or kill predators. It can be based on restoration and conservation of habitat used by caribou.”

Proulx said his studies show only 20 per cent of the Little Smoky range is suitable for caribou as the rest is too fragmented — by roads, forestry and oil and gas operations.

The government’s draft plan does include reducing forest harvesting and restoring seismic lines, which wolves use as routes to track caribou, but Proulx says more needs to be done.

“The Alberta government project suggests they will continue logging in these zones, oil and gas will continue. And if they minimize it, it will be on a volunteer basis from the companies.

“That’s like putting the survival of the chicken within the mouth of the red fox.”

But the government said the challenge is balancing habitat restoration with preserving industry that is a prime contributor to Alberta’s economy.

“We are committed to not losing anymore woodland caribou populations,” said Hervieux. “And we can get there, but it’s going to have to be give all the way around.

“These are hard things. If it was easy, we would have solved it by now.”

via Wildlife experts denounce Alberta’s wolf cull and protected caribou zone | Calgary Herald