On August 26, the Federal Government released its proposed Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy under the
Endangered Species Act. The foremost threats to caribou
are habitat alteration (including loss, degradation and
fragmentation) from human activities, and predation, mostly by
wolves. In the short run, it is cheaper and quicker to kill wolves
("predator population reduction") than to protect and
restore habitat. Environment Minister Peter Kent is reported to be contemplating killing large
numbers of wolves in Alberta to "protect" the
province's fragile caribou herds.
The official goals of the recovery plan are to:
Maintain the current status of the 17 existing
self-sustaining local caribou populations;
Achieve self-sustaining status for 12 local populations
that are not self-sustaining, to ensure representivity of
ecological conditions and maintain connectivity across Canada;
"Stabilize" the remaining 28 local populations
that are not self-sustaining.
In other words, no effort will be made to restore half the
caribou herds to "self-sustaining" status. These
twenty-eight herds "were not identified as essential for
connectivity and representative of ecological conditions across the
distribution of the species." Instead, they will be
"stabilized" at existing population size estimates. Local
populations with fewer than 100 animals will be brought up to at
least 100. The strategy implies that this may be achieved by
killing the local wolves, their natural predators, instead of by
protecting their habitat.
This may work in the short run, but seems doomed to failure in
the longer run. For one thing, will wolves be culled forever? For
another, caribou evolved with constant wolf predation; it is wolf
predation that keeps caribou herds and their grazing lands healthy,
by weeding out the weak and the sick, and by moving the animals
from place to place in tight groups. Removing keystone predators
may be convenient for humans, but I do not know how it can produce
a healthy ecosystem.
The consultation period on the draft recovery strategy runs
until October 25, 2011.
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