An extensive study of caribou herds across British Columbia and Alberta suggests a way to reverse a long and steady decline of the endangered species — kill more wolves and moose and pen pregnant cows.
“It’s go hard or go home,” said Rob Serrouya, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of the study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Unfortunately, it’s that black or white.”
Another study released within days of Serrouya’s suggests another way. And wildlife advocates worry Serrouya’s findings could be misused, illustrating the complexity of what he calls the “toughest conservation challenge in North America.”
Improvement with managed herds
Serrouya and his colleagues looked at 18 caribou herds ranging over more than 90,000 square kilometres. At the study’s start in 2004, 16 herds were declining.
Restoring habitat damaged by oil, gas and forestry activity is too slow, said Serrouya. Herds don’t have the decades that takes.
The scientists compared four government-run management programs — killing wolves, protecting pregnant cows, moving caribou between ranges and culling moose that attract predators. Six of the herds were not managed.
By 2018, the unmanaged herds remained unchanged.
But eight of the 12 managed herds improved. Half of them had either stabilized or begun increasing. One almost doubled over three years to 67 from 36 animals.
“That’s almost unprecedented,” Serrouya said. “It doesn’t mean recovery, but it means some of these herds have turned around. It’s the first study to show management has turned around sharp declines of caribou on such a broad scale.”
Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving and extensive wolf kills. Ranges with the best herd growth had the most intense cull.
Those five ranges saw a total of 144 wolves killed every year, mostly by aerial gunning and strychnine. A cull that large over the entire study area would result annually in nearly 650 carcasses, although Serrouya said that’s not being recommended.
Removing moose at the same time would allow managers to kill up to 80 per cent fewer wolves, he said. Still, moose numbers in any one range would have to be reduced by up to 83 per cent.
Alternative: Reduce wolf-caribou encounters
Jonah Keim, an independent biologist and consultant, offers a different solution. In research published in the British Ecological Society’s journal, he suggests caribou can be adequately protected by making it tough for wolves to get to them.
“What we need to do is reduce the encounters between wolves and caribou,” he said. “You can do that without reducing the number of wolves.”
Between 2011 and 2014, Keim studied what would happen if it weren’t so easy for wolves, deer and moose to follow cutlines and forestry roads into caribou habitat. Over an 800-square-kilometre area, researchers dropped 200 cubic metres of tree debris every 200 metres.
The rate at which wolves stopped using the paths dropped 70 per cent, the study found.
“It was unbelievably effective at reducing wolf use,” said Keim.
Serrouya applauded Keim’s paper, but questioned its practicality on a landscape with 350,000 kilometres of linear disturbance.
“To block 350,000 kilometres would take years and years,” he said. “What would happen in the meantime?”
Four herds vanished between 2004 and 2018.
‘War on wildlife’
Keim said efforts could be focused on where they’d do the most good. He suggested that snowmobile trails could be designed to draw wolf packs away from caribou. It wouldn’t be that hard, he said.
“That type of work can be done in the summer or winter by somebody on foot.”
Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association fears Serrouya’s findings could be used to declare “a war on wildlife.”
“These findings could be used by industry and government to prolong unsustainable forest exploitation while endlessly harming wildlife species,” she said.
She urged governments to keep restoring habitat.
Serrouya said drastic measures will be needed into the foreseeable future.
“Society would have to change the way it values natural resources. Society would have to decide to reduce the rate of resource extraction.”
Rapidly receding glaciers on Baffin Island reveal long-covered Arctic landscapes
Glacial retreat in the Canadian Arctic has uncovered landscapes that haven’t been ice-free in more than 40,000 years and the region may be experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years, new University of Colorado Boulder research finds.
The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications [ open access ] <<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08307-w>>, uses radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of plants collected at the edges of 30 ice caps on Baffin Island, west of Greenland. The island has experienced significant summertime warming in recent decades.
“The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster,” said Simon Pendleton, lead author and a doctoral researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
Baffin is the world’s fifth largest island, dominated by deeply incised fjords separated by high-elevation, low-relief plateaus. The thin, cold plateau ice acts as a kind of natural cold storage, preserving ancient moss and lichens in their original growth position for millennia.
“We travel to the retreating ice margins, sample newly exposed plants preserved on these ancient landscapes and carbon date the plants to get a sense of when the ice last advanced over that location,” Pendleton said. “Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants define the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century”
In August, the researchers collected 48 plant samples from 30 different Baffin ice caps, encompassing a range of elevations and exposures. They also sampled quartz from each site in order to further establish the age and ice cover history of the landscape.
Once the samples were processed and radiocarbon dated back in labs at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at CU Boulder and the University of California Irvine, the researchers found that these ancient plants at all 30 ice caps have likely been continuously covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years.
“Unlike biology, which has spent the past three billion years developing schemes to avoid being impacted by climate change, glaciers have no strategy for survival,” said Gifford Miller, senior author of the research and a professor of geological sciences at CU Boulder. “They’re well behaved, responding directly to summer temperature. If summers warm, they immediately recede; if summers cool, they advance. This makes them one of the most reliable proxies for changes in summer temperature.”
When compared against temperature data reconstructed from Baffin and Greenland ice cores, the findings suggest that modern temperatures represent the warmest century for the region in 115,000 years and that Baffin could be completely ice-free within the next few centuries.
“You’d normally expect to see different plant ages in different topographical conditions,” Pendleton said. “A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example. But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now.”
“We haven’t seen anything as pronounced as this before,” Pendleton said.
Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions. But we can reverse that decline – if we act now.
This global Living Planet Report is the 12th of its kind, each one documenting deepening wildlife losses and sounding the alarm about the devastating impacts of human development and consumption on wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers and climate.
Canadian wildlife are not exempt from this biodiversity crisis. WWF’s recent Living Planet Report Canada found that half of the wildlife species in Canada are declining, and of those, the decline is 83 per cent. Protected at-risk species haven’t shown signs of improvement either, the report finds.
Reversing the decline of wildlife requires immediate action from governments, businesses and individuals. Here’s how we can start heading in the right direction:
Make reversing wildlife loss a part of your day, every day.
- Speak up as a citizen and as a consumer – use your voice and choices to encourage businesses and governments to shift to sustainable policies and practices for wildlife, protected areas and climate change.
- Help wildlife where you live. Be a wildlifer.
- Calculate your personal consumption footprint, then work to reduce it.
- Be a champion for wildlife at work or on campus.
Governments should do everything in their power to protect our most vulnerable species.
To date, governments have hesitated to use many of the legal tools at their disposal under the Species at Risk Act – leading to deaths among especially vulnerable species like southern resident killer whales. WWF-Canada and other conservation groups have launched a lawsuit against federal ministers for failing to recommend an emergency order to protect these whales.
New protected areas should properly protect species.
New research has shown that protected areas can do so much more to safeguard the future of wildlife – if we prioritize creating them in the places where the highest number of at-risk species live. To best benefit biodiversity, Canada needs high-quality networks of protected areas that help the most wildlife.
Get on track with actions to stop climate change.
Canada is currently on a path for 3 C to 4 C warming, and recent regressive provincial climate change policy decisions are sending us in the wrong direction. Any overshoot of our 1.5 C target will be catastrophic for nature, wildlife and vulnerable communities. Among other things, WWF-Canada is asking governments to immediately transition fossil fuel subsidies to support habitat-friendly renewable energy development, update the Impact Assessment Act to ensure new developments are evaluated within a strict carbon budget, and focus on restoring and protecting forests, wetlands and seagrass meadows to create carbon sinks.
We have a lot of work to do, but there is reason for hope. Two important federal decisions will make a considerable difference for wildlife:
- Fish and other freshwater species habitat will be better protected in the new Fisheries Act (passed in the House of Commons this past June), which safeguards the flow of water essential for healthy freshwater systems and wildlife.
- Marine mammals, forage fish and other marine wildlife will be better protected once the recommendations from the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards are passed into law, as it brings Canada’s marine protected areas in line with international standards by, among other things, banning activities such as oil and gas development.
Decades of documented declines show us that we won’t see wildlife recovery unless we all make it a priority – in all facets of our lives. As a society, our decisions about land use, energy, fuel, pollution and consumption together determine which species get a fighting chance and which wildlife get left behind.
Let’s put the brakes on biodiversity loss, and stop this mass extinction before it happens.
Canadian laws designed to protect wildlife species at risk of extinction and rebuild their populations are failing to stop those animals from vanishing faster than ever, a new report shows.
The Living Planet Report Canada released Thursday by World Wildlife Fund Canada shows that 87 species vulnerable enough to be given protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), such as woodland caribou, southern resident killer whales, and Canada warblers, declined by an average of 63 per cent between 1970 and 2014. And their average rate of decline has increased since SARA was enacted in 2002.
Just because you have a piece of legislation doesn’t mean that you’re going to have action on the ground and in the water, and that’s what ultimately matters.– C. Scott Findlay, University of Ottawa
“What we don’t know is how bad would wildlife populations be doing if that act wasn’t in place,” says James Snider, vice-president of scientific research and innovation for the conservation group lead author of the report.
But, he added, that the finding “suggests we need to be doing more.”
Why has SARA been so ineffective at stopping the loss of endangered species, let alone helping them recover?
Researchers say the problem isn’t the legislation itself, but the way it’s been implemented by the federal government.
“Just because you have a piece of legislation doesn’t mean that you’re going to have action on the ground and in the water and that’s what ultimately matters,” says C. Scott Findlay, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
The WWF report cites:
- Delays in every step of the process.
- Withholding of protection for some species, such as Atlantic cod or or West Coast chinook and sockeye salmon populations, due to economic interests.
Some researchers say the fact that the provinces and territories — not the federal government — have jurisdiction over most of the habitats where endangered and threatened species live is also an issue.
In order for a species to be federally protected, a science-based recommendation is needed from the biologists on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Then the federal government must decide whether to take that recommendation and actually list a species under SARA, giving it protection — something that can take a long time.
For example, COSEWIC recommended listing eight populations of lake sturgeon in 2007, but as of this summer, the federal government has not made a listing decision.
Findlay notes that no listing decisions were made between 2011 and 2015 (except for the emergency listing of three bats requested by the Nova Scotia government) under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and by the end of 2015 there was a backlog of about 150 species recommended for listing.
Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, told CBC News the current Liberal government is committed to clearing that backlog within three years. It has already listed more than two dozen since being elected in 2015.
But the situation shows the implementation of SARA, as with other laws, “is a matter of the enthusiasm of governments to proceed with whatever it is that the legislation stipulates,” Findlay says.
And the current government claims to be more enthusiastic than the last when it comes to conservation.
“At the end of the day, this government believes that protecting biodiversity is important,” Wilkinson said.
In the past, the federal government hasn’t gone with scientists’ recommendation. The WWF report cites a 2015 study that found of 65 species of fish recommended for protection; only 12 have been listed since 2003.
The government decided not to list certain populations of Atlantic cod, Atlantic bluefin tuna and B.C. chinook and sockeye salmon. SARA listing means the fish can’t be commercially harvested at all, and economic concerns have been suggested as reasons for the decisions.
“SARA to date has largely failed for marine fishes,” said Julia Baum, a University of Victoria marine biologist who co-authored the fish study.
“We have an excellent process in COSEWIC that provides all of the scientific evidence that we need to conserve marine fishes and all wildlife really, but then between COSEWIC and SARA, marine fishes simply fall off the plate.”
She’s also frustrated by the delays in the process: “It’s like the house is on fire, you call the fire department and they sit there for 10 years twiddling their thumbs and debating whether or not they should put the fire out. It’s a ridiculous system.”
Even after a species is listed, there are often further delays before action is taken.
Not ‘by design’
For example,boreal populations of the woodland caribou were listed under SARA as threatened in 2003, but their recovery strategy wasn’t released until 2012 and action plans from most provinces and territories aren’t due until the end of this year.
Philip McLoughlin, a population biologist at the University of Saskatchewan who studies a number of large mammal populations including woodland caribou in northern Saskatchewan, says the delays aren’t “by design” — it’s just that wildlife populations can be complicated.
For example, woodland caribou range across the country, and the threats they face vary with location. In northern Saskatchewan, their main threat is wildfires. In Alberta, McLoughlin says, climate change and industrial development have helped white-tailed deer invade woodland caribou habitat, bringing with them deadly predators like wolves.
“Where I see the Species at Risk Act failing species are for those large distribution populations like woodland caribou or boreal caribou or barren-ground caribou, where the reasons for population decline can be quite varied depending on where you are in the country and this really makes it difficult to establish a recovery strategy that everyone can buy into.”
The WWF recommends that SARA would be more effective if the government focused more on protecting ecosystems where endangered species live rather than individual species.
Snider said there are already some examples where this has been effective, such as a recovery strategy that covers a number of grassland species in the Prairies such as the sage grouse, blackfooted ferret and the swift fox.
Wilkinson suggests we can expect more of that in the future from the current government.
“This is exactly where we’re taking the Species at Risk portfolio.”
But the researchers also say we can’t rely on SARA and the federal government alone to protect our at-risk species.
Most of the habitats where wildlife live are under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Findlay says. “The vast majority of activities that pose threats — agriculture, mining forestry, hydroelectric dams, all of these things are under provincial jurisdiction,” he adds.
McLoughlin says part of the problem is the provincial and territorial wildlife acts that parallel SARA don’t have enough teeth.
“There’s a lot of wiggle room.”
Findlay says SARA does have a “safety net” clause that would force the provinces to protect SARA-listed species, but in the 15 years since SARA was enacted, it’s never been used.
“To my mind,” he said. “This is a substantial problem.”
Wilkinson says the federal government is already working more closely with the provinces on species at risk files and has boosted staffing to help with the woodland caribou action plans.
“We’re working actively with every province that has a boreal caribou population on a very active basis as we move towards this fall,” he said.
Conservation group ‘Pacific Wild’ has launched a petition in an effort to save wolves on Vancouver Island, and hope enough people will sign before Saturday.
The group is putting the word out because the Ministry of Forests has proposed extending wolf trapping to increase the elk population.
According to the Ministry, the proposal is to extend the trapping season by two months: Sept. 10 through to June 30, because the wolf population has risen while the elk population remains too small and isn’t showing any signs of growing.
Pacific Wild Executive Director Ian McAllister said if the proposal goes through, those traps could kill pups and pregnant wolves.
McAllister added West Coast wolves are globally unique because they survive off of marine life.
“They’re also morphologically unique, slightly smaller than wolves on the rest of the continent and they’re certainly behaviourally distinct because of their reliance on the ocean. So these are rare wolves that should be protected and the BC government unfortunately is going in the opposite direction and allowing them to be hunted, trapped, and killed in extremely inhumane ways.”
“It’s very much a knee-jerk reaction to a few people, you know, who have said that wolves are preying on too many deer. There’s absolutely no data or field-based research,” he claimed, “There’s no peer-reviewed science to support this.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Forests said, “[t]here appears to be a correlation between the areas with increased wolf signs and decreased ungulate populations.” It did admit that although there are scientific inventories to monitor deer and elk populations, there have not been scientific surveys for monitoring wolves in the area.
It currently estimates there are around 250 wolves on Vancouver Island and rising.
The Ministry said no wolves were trapped between 2016 and 2017 because of significant snowfall and freezing temperatures that winter. It added that in the previous five years, an average of 7 wolves were trapped in the entire Vancouver Island region per fiscal year.
All trappers and hunters that harvest wolves are required to report it to the Province, and trapping will mostly happen on northern and central Vancouver Island.
Feedback submissions to the B.C. Government will close midnight Dec. 19, and the Ministry said all comments will be considered before any decision is made.
Small livestock and horses can be saved, but cattle too difficult to move, says B.C. Cattlemen’s Association
By Cory Correia, CBC News Posted: Jul 11, 2017 2:45 PM PT Last Updated: Jul 11, 2017 3:22 PM PT
Cattle at the Tatton Springs Ranch in 100 Mile House sift through the burnt grass in search of food. (Ryan Maljaars )
While wildfires in the B.C. Interior have forced thousands of people to flee their homes, attention is now turning to how ranchers can save their livestock.
The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association is connecting ranchers who need to move their livestock with people who can help get horses and smaller animals out of evacuation areas with trailers. But the association says thousands of cattle can’t be helped.
According to general manager Kevin Boon, the challenge with most cattle is they are often spread out over thousands of acres of land, making it onerous to round them up.
“You might have a thousand head out on 40 or 50-thousand acres of land, and you have no way of pinpointing exactly where they are,” said Boon.
Ryan and Esther Maljaars were forced from their ranch in 100 Mile House in a hurry last Thursday due to the aggressive wildfire closing in on the town.
They left with their four children, three dogs, and two cats, but had to leave their cattle — their livelihood.
“When we left the fire was bearing down pretty hard, and we chased [the cattle] down into a swamp area,” said Ryan Maljaars.
The fire stopped just short of Maljaars’ farmhouse. (Ryan Maljaars)
Maljaars managed to get back to his place on Saturday to get a look at his ranch.
“Everything was scorched until we came to our place … most of the fields were burnt up around near the house. I came around the corner and there were all my cows just standing there.
“So that was the most welcome sight I’ve ever seen,” said Maljaars.
Checkpoints restricting access
Maljaars is among the lucky ones. His house is safe and his cows still have a week or two of grass to eat, but some of his neighbours lost their homes and grassland, leaving their cattle with little food.
Maljaars still wants to get back to his ranch to tend to his livestock, but like many ranchers, he is being refused re-entry by the RCMP.
Scorched earth lines the roads in 100 Mile House. (Ryan Maljaars)
“The RCMP have a job to do, too. They can’t just let anybody in. There’s a lot of vacant houses out there, there’s opportunity for looting,” said Boon.
Boon says the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association is liaising with the RCMP to get people access at the checkpoints so they can transport or tend to their livestock.
He estimates that 10,000 cattle are affected, and only a small portion have been moved.
While Boon expects some cattle won’t survive, he is confident many can endure the harsh conditions.
He does worry cattle will start to range on their own and enter the highways as fences burn.
“We’ve already had an incident of animals being hit by traffic. We want to make sure that people are aware they’re still out there,” said Boon.
If you have livestock in need of evacuation, or you can help haul cattle for other people, send an email with details to wild…@cattlemen.bc.ca.
Remember the bear that chased the woman and her dogs last month? Well, she has struck again.
Now notorious, bear No. 148 chased a group of hikers and their dog Momo on Sunday during a hike near Mount Norquay in Banff National Park.
When they first encountered the large bear, the group of three began to slowly pack away, but quickly turned to running when the mammal didn’t stop advancing.
“When we noticed that it was chasing us, we just tried to keep the pace and not panic,” Dominic Cyr, one of the hikers, told CTV. “Usually you are not supposed to show your back and we were not supposed to run but at the same time it was coming toward us.”
When the animal charged one of the hikers, the group was forced to release their dog, Momo. The grizzly followed the dog, giving the hikers a chance to get away. When the dog returned, and brought the bear with it, they continued to evade the animal until they met up with Parks Canada staff and found shelter in their truck.
“They’re lucky to be OK,” Kim Tichener, founder of Bear Safety & More, told the Calgary Herald. “This bear has followed and approached people in the past, which is concerning because you have a younger bear that has learned people are not that scary. I wish they had a can of bear spray that day because I think spraying that bear would have taught that bear that approaching people is not a good idea.”
“We were pretty much shocked all day yesterday. We could barely eat and we just kept talking about the fact we almost got mauled and killed by a grizzly bear. At least we’re alive,” Cyr said.
Though traumatic, the group didn’t let this encounter scare them off. The next day, this adventurous trio (and Momo, of course) hiked the Tunnel Mountain trail—but this time, they brought bear spray.
– The Liberals, NDP and Greens all plan to allow trophy hunting of Grizzlies to continue! The Greens and NDP are just giving sport/trophy hunters loopholes.
~ If we want to save the lives of Grizzlies and all wild animals, now, during election time, we must get our message through to every candidate!
The Greens and the NDP are playing coy with the issue by allowing Grizzlies to be hunted as long as the entire body is packed out, or the body is supposedly used for meat; green-washing the Grizzly hunt by making sport and trophy hunting look like subsistence hunting.
This is simply a loop-hole that will allow any trophy hunter to use a guiding service who will take care of the bear’s body for them, leaving them to thrill-kill Grizzlies and keep the heads and hides as their disgusting trophies. Even the Greens! Even the Greens won’t commit to truly protecting BC’s wild animals.
The attached article is provided by an independent candidate running in the riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill, Jordan Reichert.
Jordan is employed by Animal Alliance of Canada, and is the West coast representative for the Animal Protection Party of Canada.