Wolf population management protecting Little Smoky caribou

**Thanks to everyone for your comments. As it can be a lot of work to moderate this blog, sometimes we need to close comments after a certain period of time.

Our ecosystem is built with many moving pieces and there is never just one factor affecting a species or putting a population at risk, and this is true of the Little Smoky caribou range. Maintaining caribou population and habitat is a priority. There are several things being done to address this including restoring and managing lands and managing the populations of predator species in the area, this includes wolves. Let’s talk numbers When it comes to wolves (one of Alberta’s better known predators) the population has cycled between scarcity and abundance.  The current estimated wolf population in Alberta is 7,000 wolves, an increase from 4,000 wolves in the early 1990s. WoodlandCaribouElstonDzus How do wolves pose a threat to caribou? Wolf numbers are related to number of deer species in an area– this means the more food available for wolves, the better they survive and reproduce. Historically, there was usually some distance between caribou and moose because they used different habitats – caribou in the muskeg and moose in the uplands.  At the same time there were few deer in those areas, so the total wolf population was lower than it is now. Due to loss and fragmentation of habitat, increasing numbers of deer and moose are sharing caribou habitat. While government continues working to minimize these impacts, the increased numbers of other animals in caribou habitat means an increase in predators – namely wolves. Interactions with wolves and environment In some habitats, wolves can threaten the populations of other predators, such as cougars, and can limit their numbers by competing for prey or through direct contact resulting in cougar deaths.  Wolves will also kill coyotes when they have the opportunity, and in some areas have been known to reduce coyote numbers. While there are some deadly consequences when dealing with wolves they also contribute to their environment, as was the case when wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. When does the government manage wolf populations? While localized, lethal removal of individual wolves is done when wolves attack livestock, the only time entire populations would be managed is when wolf predation could cause the extinction of an identifiable group of a certain species, such as the Little Smoky caribou herd. Wolf control is not used to increase game populations. How are wolf populations controlled? The only place a wolf control program is happening right now is in the Little Smoky caribou herd range in North Central Alberta.  The main methods of control are aerial shooting, trapping, and toxicants, which are only used in winter months when bears are hibernating so the bears will not be harmed. Toxicant bait stations are usually placed along known wolf travel routes to increase the probability that wolves will find the bait, and they are also buried in the snow to decrease the chances of other species finding them. Though occasionally coyotes and ravens will sometimes take the baits, when used in this way toxicants generally do not impact other animals in the area. While wolf population management is one of the tools considered to help protect caribou herds in Alberta, it’s not something that’s done lightly. Biologists and other scientists carefully study animal populations and always explore every available option to ensure the sustainability of Alberta’s wildlife before population control measures are implemented.

78 thoughts on “Wolf population management protecting Little Smoky caribou

  1. Based on what’s described above, won’t it make much more sense to deal with the real problem of larger wolf populations which the article above quite correctly states as being “Due to loss and fragmentation of habitat”, i.e reduce oil & gas and logging activities in the range of the caribou?

  2. The article glosses over the real problem: the Alberta government has allowed that landscape to be fragmented by irresponsible development in an area that should have been protected for the caribou. This problem has been know since the 1970’s, yet the province has failed to take any real action to prevent it occurring., and now have to resort to wolf culling. So short sighted.

    • I agree, totally trying the redirect our attention from their incapacity of protecting our environment – our ecosystem as a whole. Always trying to kill some animals to repair something that has nothing to do with a certain decline or overpopulation of species…

    • exactly well said. There is no excuse for killing such beautiful animals. People cross the world to see Canada’s wildlife. Stop destroying it.

  3. On one end of the province you kill the wolfs and on the other the wild horses…wonder what’s next.
    “…toxicants generally do not impact other animals in the area.” Yeah right…I read that you “accidentally” poisoned 6 lynx, 31 foxes, 91 ravens, 36 coyotes, 4 fishers, 8 martens and 4 weasels. Are these numbers reflecting all the animals that might died from it further away from the sites??? Death from strychnine is extremely painful. I have something in mind that it’s against the law to cause an animal unnecessary suffering…how come that’s for everyone else but you guys?

    • Unfortunately they don’t care about the wolves or any other animal for that matter. Humans are the main reason, loss of habitat. But they don’t want to change that. So, kill the animals, who cares if it is painful and they suffer. The wolves are hated by many. They are forgetting they are loved by many also and we are angry.

  4. This is an outrageous industry-motivated approach that somehow gets the province off the hook for failing to manage caribou habitats. Wolf control is unacceptable. The caribou habitat is lost so we must let them fade away. Focus on the Caribou Mtns, Bistcho Lake, the Mtn herds, and other places where some habitat still remains. And protect that habitat!

  5. “The caribou habitat is lost so we must let them fade away”. Yes but we must NOT lose more species and must not allow the province and industries to continue the destruction and pick off more species. Remnants of habitat should be protected instead of allowing more destruction. At least stop the government from blaming the loss on wolves. “Let’s talk numbers” about “restoring and managing lands” and “loss and fragmentation of habitat” and document the other ‘species at risk’ in the East Slopes.
    Most of our native E/S stream salmonids (Athabasca rainbow trout, Westslope cutthroat and bull trout plus Arctic grayling) are being listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘at risk’ despite severe restrictions on angler harvest but the govt won’t even protect the narrow floodplains of these small headwater streams. Where does the destruction and cumulative impacts stop or do we just let more species fade away?

  6. I am appalled that the Alberta government targets wolves as the main culprit of the caribou decline and it is the wolf who suffers because the government needs to show some kind of action plan to save the caribou. The real issue is habitat loss and habitat destruction due to logging activities and oil and gas, yet there is only a vague mention in your blog about restoring lands. That is what we want to hear. Instead of the “wolf population management plan” AKA wolf slaughter , let’s hear about the “habitat restoration and prevention of further habitat destruction by logging, oil and gas plan”.

  7. I have been in some of the areas where this program is going on. And the logging companies have clear cut right up to the edge of small pieces of old growth. There’s no respect for habitat here. You are killing wolves in areas where the caribou’s fate has already been decided-extirpation. They aren’t coming back for generations and the government knows it! Forget the wolf killing program, which is killing way more wildlife than wolves (just talk to the trappers in the area and hear what they have to say about furbearers, pet dogs), and finally do something about the habitat!! Just don’t pay lip service, DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE HABITAT!!!

  8. The wolf cull is the reason why I DON’T take clients to that area. Although I love the Grande Cache region. Areal hunting and especially toxicants are a disgrace for Canada.

  9. Habitat, habitat, habitat. Where the caribou live is being destroyed and the Alberta Government is being irresponsible in managing land use. With no where to leave and nothing to eat the caribou will not survive. You have been killing wolves for 9 years with no real change to the caribou recovery. Mr. Prentice made a promise for Alberta to be a leader in conservation and environment. It is time to be accountable.

  10. Please stop the culling of the wolves. It’s not good science and I believe you know that. You’ve had decades to recover the caribou and haven’t been able to do so. Why kill a whole bunch more species? Poisoning one animal kills many others, I can’t believe you tried to tell us otherwise in this article. Stop developing all the wildlife habitat and stop blaming the caribou problem on the wolves. The world is watching you Alberta.

  11. Protect the habitat. End of story. With no where to live and nothing to eat, the caribou will never recover. It is ecologically unsound to kill one species (wolves) to protect another (caribou) especially when a third species (humans) will not end their destructive behaviour in the caribou habitat. This is poor science and cannot be considered management in any way, shape or form.

  12. This predator control program is a farce designed to give the illusion of action while allowing development to continue to destroy habitat. The increase in wolves (if a true increase and not a statistical error) is due mainly with the increase in prey namely deer and moose NOT caribou. Given the caribou’s lesser standing as a prey item and preferred prey available the increase in predators is needed for the increased prey population, diminishing this population unbalances the environment further as the extremely adaptable deer will continue their increase which could further impact caribou habitat.

    We all know this, the government, wolf biologists caribou biologists but for political reasons our government refuses to do the right thing and stop the aggressive development which is stealing and destroying vital caribou habitat.

    Such superficial actions only further unbalance an unbalanced situation and could tip the herd over the edge. Protecting land and food sources is what is needed the rest will balance naturally if not toyed with for political reasons.

  13. This whole Little Smoky wolf cull is nothing more than a specious scam to allow industry to keep working and pacify the public. They have killed at least a thousand wolves over nine years and hundreds of moose and elk shot for strychnine poisoned bait and may have increased calf production by 1.5 animals. They don’t even know what is killing calves – not one cause of death has been identified, wolves are just the handiest scapegoat. The non target kill with strychnine is atrocious and you can be assured black and grizzly bears are dying in numbers after eating lost poisoned baits in the spring after snow melt. Most frightening of all is the Alberta public appears oblivious to everything.

  14. Wolves always take the BLAME for all situations! People like killing them! Leave the Wondrous Wolves be! Let them live! It’s 2015! Time to SAVE all Wildlife and Environments before we lose them forever! Thank You! X

  15. The policy of culling predators is inhumane and ecologically unsound. Wolves should be protected, not “managed,” i.e., killed. Predators are beneficial to prey populations, including elk; nature is the best manager of wildlife. Ranchers should use non-lethal deterrence to protect their livestock.

  16. All of the above make sense. The wolf cull does not. ESRD gives the link to the Yellow Stone Wolves project so – if anyone has read it- they should realize that the aerial and toxic options kill random wolves and thus create more breeding and wolves. WTH? ESRD should take some responsibility for keeping up to date on scientific findings and doing the least possible to interfere while culling in a responsible manner if necessary. This is certainly not ethical or responsible!

  17. while I appreciate the habitat dilemma and believe the province should address the problems and pursue a different approach, the consequences of the past decades of activity will be expressed on the landscape for decades into the future. The triage approach to caribou management obviously has value. I have been trying hard to increase the awareness of the nature of the problem in places like the Little Smokey and elsewhere suggesting black bears are likely the primary predator of caribou calves here as they have been shown elsewhere for deer, moose, elk and woodland caribou, and that the reason the wolf cull failed was because calf mortality has remained high in the absence of wolf and their prey species. Bears are not an obligate feeder and take caribou calves quite incidentally. I am quite amazed that several other provinces recognize black bears but Alberta seems impervious to this reality. I believe that we can use NON_LETHAL approaches to reduce the extent of bear predation on calves as it all takes place in 6 weeks. You cannot find a reference to boreal woodland caribou in canada that does not concur with the high calf mortality.

    I am not trying to get industry off the habitat responsibility hook. They have been charged with this because they are the government. We need to adopt a policy that addesses both habitat and interim programs of NON-LETHAL predator management while habitats recover from the historical impacts.

    I actually believe that if the government gave industry the responsibility to mitigate the problem they would. The issue of government culling programs of predator and prey has failed miserably- time to move on.

  18. Has it occurred to you that strychnine poisoning is incredibly cruel? Same line of thinking about indiscriminate trapping which does not inflict instant death. We are in the 21st century, c’mon, go beyond!

  19. Lots of great comments above – if only the gov’t. would listen – just like here in the states – kill the wolves because they kill other animals – and then the animals don’t recover well – or worse yet after killing so many wolves the population grows and then we start killing them off also – wildlife needs less “management” — people’s reproduction rates and industry expansion are what need to be managed in Canada, the US and elsewhere as well…

  20. This is a reactive response to an issue that should have been dealt with years ago when the caribou were identified as endangered by the federal government, and the wolves are paying the price for the provincial government’s short-sightedness and over-zealousness to develop the northern boreal forest where the caribou are located. Now that oil is below $50 BBL wouldn’t it make more sense to shut down development of this area? What’s the hurry to get it out of the ground at current prices? If Premier Prentice wants to make good on making Alberta a world leader in environmental stewardship why doesn’t the ESRD announce that Alberta takes the caribou’s plight seriously and will put an immediate halt to any further development of the land, review current operations, with the possibility of shutting down anything that threatens the caribou’s recovery.

  21. They have been killing wolves (and by catch wildlife) for almost 9 years now and have not identified the cause of death of a single caribou calf and additionally the caribou population is still not rebounding. Killing methods have included aerial shooting, trapping, snaring and poisoning. Also the main cause for the decline in caribou numbers is because of habitat destruction and fragmentation related to the oil and gas industry, not wolves.

  22. So many good comments here! I sure hope our government takes heed and re-evaluates their approach. Obviously what the ESRD is doing now isn’t working… maybe that is some indication that the source is somewhere else, like industry ruining their habitat?!! And using poison is irresponsible as the side effects in the rest of the ecosystem are horrendous.

  23. People have been sounding the alarm about the caribou since the early 1980’s and has the Government listened? If it doesn’t start with money, have money in the middle, and end with money, they aren’t interested. See Billion Dollar Caribou – The Nature of Things. In the meantime, let’s kill some wolves so we can pretend to be doing something to protect the caribou. (sarcasm intended!)

  24. Wolves deserve respect and protection from these brutal killings. They’re an integral part of nature and it’s balance.

  25. I am hopeful that someday the term “manage” will not be used…as in terms of “managing” a problem. Wolves are not the problem…human expansion into wild areas and unoriginal thinking is the culprit. How about looking long term and wide scope, rather than killing for the pure sake of seeming like you’re actually doing something.

  26. This mass slaughter of wolves is completely unethical. For one thing, conservation biologists should adopt a rule of “doing no harm” to our ecosystems, and working withing that restraint to carry out management. Then the overarching problem for woodland caribou is of course the decimation of habitat from oil and gas and other industries. How can the Government of Alberta be unwilling to put those industries on hold in the Little Smoky range, but willing to go ahead and carry out the killing of hundreds of wolves and other wildlife victims? More and more Albertans, Canadians, and people abroad are starting to figure out what kinds of backwards and badly made decisions are made by the Government of Alberta.

  27. The predator prey relationship resukts in population numbers to fluctuate almost together. There is no need to kill wolves as the relative numbers will always be controlled naturally. To allow people to hunt them is a disgrace.

  28. This senseless slaughter and very cruel decimation of wolf populations must stop. It is ineffective and one of the worst crimes against nature being committed in Canada.


    · The Province must suspend leasing and other resource extraction leases and permits in caribou habitat until an effective caribou recovery plan is put in place and resource operators commit to caribou recovery.

    · New regulations must be developed and implemented to ensure current operations do absolute minimal damage to caribou and other wildlife habitat.

    · Linear disturbance in caribou habitat must be minimized. Select access routes must be shared by operators and un-used routes rehabilitated immediately.

    · Alberta must protect large undisturbed tracks of land where caribou can thrive along with wolves and other predators that are necessary for healthy forests.

  29. I don’t buy into any of this Little Smokey Caribou protection…In my opinion this Caribou protection talk is an excuse to kill our Wolves and I would guess one of the reasons our Government wants to kill the Wolves in Alberta is Land Development, Oil, and/or Liquified Natural Gas pipelines.

    I’m so tired of Governments, that in my opinion, knowingly destroy our environment by killing off our Wildlife.

    My message to all Governments “Leave the Wolves alone…leave the Caribou alone…Leave our Wilderness alone…Nature will take care of itself”.

  30. The question shouldn’t be “How do wolves pose a threat to Caribou”, it should be “How do people pose a threat to the caribou?”. Fragmentation of habitat and culling … That’s all you got Alberta????

  31. Please Alberta government, stop killing wildlife. Last year it was wild horses, and now it is wolves. The wolves are not the main threat; human activities are. We not to stop using killing as a solution for everything. As others have said, trapping and poisoning are both incredibly cruel. It is indefensible that the government is engaging in so much animal cruelty and thinks it is above animal welfare laws. Please start listening; most Alberta citizens do not want the killing of wildlife to continue.

  32. I am a concerned Albertan writing to you about the treatment of our wolf population. The current control methods are inhumane, un-controlled and non-specific. Poison, leg-hold traps, bounties, and culling incentives have been the usual practice and are simply unacceptable. Through social media, voters can easily learn of the barbaric treatment of this highly intelligent species and the lack of science based management of Alberta’s wolves. It is time for our government to regain control of wolf management using a science based approach focusing on public education, concurrently promoting avenues that enable humans to co-exist with wolves.
    Please support humane treatment of Alberta’s wolf population. Encourage our government to regain control of all wolf management in the province. Pursue scientifically based plans for increasing the populations of caribou, or other prey species whose declining numbers are often unreasonably blamed on the wolf. Above all, immediately ban the use of poison and leg-hold/snare traps.

  33. So if the problem is two fold and you are only treating one half of the problem (predators) while ignoring the other (land fragmentation) then how will this problem ever be resolved in the long term? Please tell us how you are continuing to work with the land loss and fragmentation. How have you altered/ limited forestry on the landscape? Where have you reduced the oil and gas footprint?

    While I am frankly shocked to see that the land loss is being acknowledged as an issue, I haven’t seen any evidence in this article, or elsewhere, that anything is being done about it. Feel free to write a detailed article with specific steps being taken to address this issue. From what I’ve witnessed, the landscape is being overrun by industry more each year but I’d be thrilled to learn that I’m wrong.

  34. Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta Deer Herds and Meningeal Brain Worm killing the Caribou. crucial habitat areas experiencing development pressure. Oil ,Gas, Deforestation, Roads, Agricultural. Overlapping habitat White-tail deer influx? Let The Wolves Do The Job As Nature Intended. Wolves are better at land Management than we will ever be. Stop Thinking Backwards Canada. This is a slaughter of our iconic wolves!!!

  35. It boggles the mind that we humans think it is okay to poison (torture) the wolves to save the caribou. There is so much wrong with this, where does one begin? First, it does not work. It is our destruction of habitat that has caused the decline in the first place. Second, we are causing unbelievable pain to these sentient beautiful creatures, and third, the torture does not end with the wolves. To claim that there is little impact on non-target species is utter hogwash.

  36. After wolves and caribou have coexisted for thousands of years now you determine the government needs to gun them down to save the caribou? Sure it’s not man that has diminished the caribou herds?

  37. Personally, I really don’t see the need for this Slaughter to continue. Wolves are doing what any animal or what us humans would do, they are Struggling to stay alive, they are hunting for food to stay alive and to raise their young. It’s all a part of nature and they aren’t killing for the sake of killing to be Vicious monsters. I Truly and Strongly Urge for this wolf slaughter to Stop and to STOP immediately. Wolves are NOT Coldhearted, Vicious killers or monsters. And further more they were here before us humans and they have the right to live and breathe as well as we do.

  38. Government knows as well as we do that the wolves are not the problem. They, as humans, created the problem and should take full responsibility for it instead of blaming the wolves. Stop the killing of wolves and rather let them do what they must do to balance the ecosystem again.

  39. No one is listening to science. The murder of these wolves is cruel and unconscionable. The government allowed commercial development of caribou habitat. WHY on earth was that done? 1000 wolves have been killed over ten years trying to fix something that is NOT fixable via the murder of wolves. I’ll bet there are MANY alternatives, but you are listening to the people ( your scientists ? Really?) who will back the government no matter what they want to do. Pleas and possibilities have been introduced but are not listened to. The WORLD is watching this horrible atrocity that was created by pure greed. Stop murdering wolves NOW, Canada. Everyone is watching.

  40. I am thoroughly disgusted with the plans that Alberta is setting forth to kill more wolves with strychnine snares and murdering them from helicopters this is a very sad situation as it is started in BC also

  41. The wolf population is not the problem! Loss of habitat and humans are the problem. Take a look at what happened in Yosemite years ago. The wolves are not the problem.

  42. There must be other solutions like relocation etc. Resorting to shooting wolves from planes and snaring them is barbaric and inhumane, how can this be allowed? Surely with today’s technology and knowledge a better solution must be out there.

  43. If we are truly being protective of this species we would be limiting human recreation in these areas. Snowmobilers continue to reach higher heights and encroach on territory that has been reserved for these animals. As more trails and multi season activities continue to grow we are pushing predators into these areas they have never ventured. Stop focusing on wolves and look at our contribution more seriously.

  44. Killing wolves to save caribou is an effective way of addressing Caribou recovery, particularly when it is changing human land uses that have led to these changes in caribou habitat in the first place. I find it embarrassing, shameful, and archaic that my Government think killing one species to save another is justifiable. And the use of poison is just plain wrong. If it habitat loss and fragmentation that has led to caribou decline, then surely the solution lies in changing how we plan and use caribou habitat.

  45. As a born and raised Albertan, I oppose the killing and controlling of the wolves. Look at Nature’s Laws. We as humans were not meant to disrupt what is a naturally working order. Time for you to also own up and be honest about why this is occurring. You have blood on your hands Alberta. Your developments and lack of respect for nature caused this.

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