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Canadian Officials Poison Wolves for Tar Sands Development

Canadian Officials Poison Wolves for Tar Sands Development

National Wildlife Federation

By Tony Iallonardo

Late last week, internal documents went public showing Canada is fretting over its sullied reputation for unfettered fossil fuel development, while resorting to poisoning wolves rather than fixing the problem. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) released a paper Feb. 6 showing tar sands, oil and gas development in Canada is contributing to the decline in caribou herds. Rather than improve environmental practices to protect and restore caribou habitat, Canadian wildlife officials are poisoning wolves with strychnine-laced bait. The news comes as Alberta and Canadian officials scramble to address environmental monitoring failures that are wreaking havoc up north.

The highly controversial Keystone XL proposal would move this Canadian dirty oil through the heartland of the U.S. to export, making the U.S. complicit in causing excruciating wildlife culling.

Strychnine progresses painfully from muscle spasms to convulsions to suffocation over a period of hours. The NWF paper says the poison will also put at risk animals like raptors, wolverines and cougars that eat the poisoned bait or scavenge on the carcasses of poisoned wildlife.

Here’s what Canada’s Minister of Environment Peter Kent said in September—“Culling is an accepted if regrettable scientific practice and means of controlling populations and attempting to balance what civilization has developed. I’ve got to admit, it troubles me that that’s what is necessary to protect this species,” Kent commented. Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute estimates that many thousands of wolves could be destroyed over five years.

Instead of resorting to euphemistic descriptions of a repugnant method of killing, Mr. Kent and Canadian officials should work on stopping the habitat destruction in the first place. Destroying and fragmenting caribou habitat to produce one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet means fewer caribou and fewer wolves just to line the pockets of Big Oil.

It’s increasingly par for the course in Canada, as the nation continues its slide from “Green to Gray.” What’s disturbing is that Keystone XL commits the U.S. to a decades long partnerhip in these crimes” against wildlife.

Canada Documents Caribou Decline

Caribou have been inhabitants of the northern hemisphere for 1.6 million years. Some species are declining. Environment Canada classifies the boreal and southern mountain populations of caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Alberta as threatened.  "The Alberta Caribou Committee notes that three of the province’s 18 herds are at immediate risk of disappearing because of loss of habitat. Six are in decline, three are stable, and not enough is known about the remaining six to determine how well they are doing,” wrote Canadian author and Arctic specialist Ed Struzik on Oct. 27 in Environment360. “Scientists are confident, however, that they are in decline as well, further fueling efforts to protect caribou by eradicating wolves,” he wrote.

Habitat Protection, Restoration Should Be the Focus

Incredibly, the Canadian government actually acknowledges that carving up forests is threatening caribou. “Boreal caribou are primarily threatened by a reduction in the availability and suitability of habitat necessary to carry out the life processes necessary for their survival and reproduction,” said Environment Canada’s proposed caribou recovery plan. Why then, we have to ask, are they not stopping this destruction? More development means less habitat, fewer caribou and fewer wolves. Both caribou and wolves need a healthy habitat.

If Canada wants to protect caribou herds, they should protect caribou habitat. Scapegoating wolves to produce profits for the oil industry is cruel and wrong.  

We need your help to protect wildlife. Get involved and help us stop this from happening. Visit our tar sands page and learn how to take action.

For more information, click here.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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