By Tara Lohan
A logged forest is a changed forest, and for woodland caribou that could mean the difference between life and death.
Tar sands mining in Fort McMurray, Alberta fragments habitat for caribou. Kris Krüg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>But here's the twist: Moose do better in these disturbed landscapes, and that puts caribou further at risk, albeit indirectly.</p><p>Previous research has found that moose prefer the vegetation that grows in these early successional forests that follow a large-scale disturbance, like commercial logging. And a higher density of moose attracts more wolves, which are also able to <a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1365-2664.12732" target="_blank">move faster and hunt farther</a> by following linear clearings like roads and pipelines in these developed areas.</p><p>While moose are the primary prey for wolves, caribou that wander into these forests become another tasty target.</p><p>"The bottom line," Fryxell explains, "is that the combination of vegetation changes, increase in road density, increase in moose, and consequent increase in wolves threaten long-term viability of woodland caribou in boreal landscapes of Ontario, in a similar fashion to many other parts of Canada."</p><p>A national assessment found that around 70% of Canada's local <a href="http://registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=2FEAAC82-1#_ex" target="_blank">populations of woodland caribou were no longer self-sustaining</a>.</p><p>So what's to be done?</p><p>Last year provincial managers in Quebec floated the idea of <a href="https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/12/11/news/quebec-plan-kill-wolves-protect-caribou-angers-conservationists" target="_blank">killing wolves</a> to protect caribou herds. Their idea met with public backlash, but wolves in British Columbia weren't so lucky. During the winter of 2019-2020, a whopping 463 wolves were killed by the B.C. provincial government for the stated purpose of protecting populations of southern mountain caribou, another caribou ecotype.</p><p>Some of the money to pay for the kill came from Coastal GasLink, a company actively clearing land in caribou habitat for a pipeline, the Canadian news outlet the <em><a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/a-dangerous-road-coastal-gaslink-pays-to-kill-wolves-in-endangered-caribou-habitat-in-b-c-interior/" target="_blank">Narwhal </a></em><a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/a-dangerous-road-coastal-gaslink-pays-to-kill-wolves-in-endangered-caribou-habitat-in-b-c-interior/" target="_blank">reported</a>.</p><p>And a <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-020-02008-3" target="_blank">recently published study</a> in the journal <em>Biology and Conservation </em>found that the culls were not likely to aid caribou and pointed out several shortcomings in previous research that called for such wolf-control measures.</p><p>There are other, and better, options — like habitat protection and restoration.</p><p>Fryxell's study concluded that "the most secure conservation measure would be to set aside extensive tracts of boreal forest with natural patterns of disturbance to sustain viable caribou sub‐populations."</p><p>Research shows that the animals need at least 65% of their range undisturbed to have a good shot at survival.</p><p>And helping caribou will come with other environmental benefits. Canada's 2018 <a href="http://registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=2FEAAC82-1#_ex" target="_blank">federal action</a> plan to restore caribou stated, "Boreal caribou is also considered by many to be an indicator of the overall state of Canada's boreal forest ecosystem." So keeping forests intact or restoring habitat is a proposition that would benefit not only caribou but many other species.</p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard</em><em style=""> and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Trump administration has initialized the final steps to open up nearly 1.6 million acres of the protected Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to allow oil and gas drilling.
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It's heartening, in the midst of the human-caused sixth mass extinction, to find good wildlife recovery news. As plant and animal species disappear faster than they have for millions of years, Russia's Siberian, or Amur, tigers are making a comeback. After falling to a low of just a few dozen in the mid-20th century, the tigers now number around 500, with close to 100 cubs — thanks to conservation measures that include habitat restoration and an illegal hunting crackdown.
To its credit, the Forest Products Association of Canada recognizes climate change is a serious threat to forests and habitat, and has vowed the sector it represents "is doing its part to fight climate change through work in our forests, at our mills and through the products we make."
By Jason Bittel
Most people associate reindeer with the North Pole. And it's true, the animals also known as caribou tend to live in remote, wintry landscapes most Americans will never see. But did you know that caribou once roamed as far south as Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont and New York? And that the Selkirk woodland caribou herd still spends part of each year in Idaho and Washington?
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The bill could advance with only 51 votes in the Senate instead of the usual 60 as it complies under Congress' budget resolution instructions for 2018.
This week, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will vote on a bill that includes a measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The Arctic Refuge is our greatest wilderness icon and is home to caribou, polar bears and hundreds of bird species that migrate to all 50 states and six continents. It's a pristine, intact ecosystem that is unparalleled in North America, and for the first time in six years, pro-drilling Representatives are pushing to open this amazing place to Big Oil's dirty, dangerous drills.
To make up for the fact that rapid tar sands oil mining is threatening caribou herds by destroying vast swaths of rainforest habitat in Alberta, the Canadian government has called for strychnine poisoning and aerial shooting of thousands of wolves in areas of tar sands mining.1
If Alberta Canada's tar sands oil fields are fully developed, an area of boreal rainforest the size of Florida will be eviscerated, leaving in its wake only giant ponds of toxic wastewater.2
It's obvious why this would pose a massive threat to all wildlife species who reside there, including birds, caribou and the iconic spirit bear.
But instead of preserving the habitat caribou need for their survival, the Canadian government's answer is to blaze ahead with tar sands oil extraction, and kill thousands of wolves who would naturally prey on the caribou. The Ministry of the Environment's plan calls for aerial shooting, and poisoning with bait laced with strychnine—a particularly painful type of poison.
This plan to kill wolves is a misguided, cruel response that does nothing to alleviate the greater problem—Tar sands development is a huge threat to wildlife, local communities, and all of our futures.
But despite the clear negative consequences, the Canadian government continues working to rapidly expand tar sands production and sales, including with the Keystone XL Pipeline to export tar sands oil all over the world.
Understandably, this has begun to earn Canadian prime Minister Stephen Harper and many in the country's government a negative reputation, to which they are becoming increasingly sensitive.2
The Ministry of the Environment has not yet moved forward with this planned wolf kill. And with enough public pressure, we can get them to abandon the plan, and build the case for Canada to stop their devastating race to expand tar sands oil fields.
For more information, click here.
1. "Tar Sands Development to Lead to Poisoning of Wolves," National Wildlife Federation, Feb. 6, 2012
2. "Tar Sands," Friends of the Earth
3. "Monitoring plan would bolster oilsands image, federal documents show," Vancouver Sun, Feb. 3, 2012
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.