Canada is poisoning wolves to deal with the disrupting effects tar sands development is having on wildlife.

As the Obama administration decides whether to give the go-ahead to the 1,700-mile Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, wildlife biologists have sounded a new alarm: expanding oil and gas production is contributing to the decline of caribou herds in Alberta.

Incredibly, Canada’s proposed solution to habitat destruction from tar sands development is to destroy the wolves that prey on caribou, instead of protecting their habitat. Two particularly repugnant methods of destroying wolves – shooting wolves from helicopters and poisoning wolves with baits laced with strychnine – would be carried out in response to the caribou declines.

Strychnine is a deadly poison known for an excruciating death that progresses painfully from muscle spasms to convulsions to suffocation, over a period of hours.

Wildlife officials will place strychnine baits on the ground or spread them from aircraft in areas they know wolves inhabit. In addition to wolves, non-target animals like raptors, wolverines and cougars will be at risk from eating the poisoned baits or scavenging on the deadly carcasses of poisoned wildlife.

Canada’s Minister of Environment Peter Kent said in September that thousands of Alberta wolves will need to be killed to rescue caribou impacted by tar sands development. “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 under Canada’s proposed plan.

The minister has it backwards. Rather than killing wolves, he should be stopping the habitat destruction and restoring habitat associated with tar sands production. Without healthy habitat, the decline of caribou is inevitable, no matter how wolves are managed. If Canada wants to protect caribou herds, the first priority should be protection and restoration of caribou habitat.

Oil and Gas Extraction Harms Caribou

Caribou have made the northern hemisphere their home for 1.6 million years, but today, some populations of caribou are declining. Environment Canada recognizes 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 October 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.

A team of Canadian and U.S. scientists, led by Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, agrees that mining oil from tar sands is a greater threat to caribou than predation by wolves. Lu Carbyn, an Emeritus Research Scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, agrees that restoring habitat in highly disturbed oil and gas regions should be the top priority for anyone interested in caribou conservation.

The Wasser study found that in winter, when food sources for caribou diminish and the animals rely on lichen, oil production activity is at its height. Moreover, oil extracting operations take place in the same open, frozen areas that caribou use. The noise, vehicles, machinery and industrial commotion of oil extraction stress the caribou as they try to paw through the snow for sustenance. Wasser’s group recommended that high-use roads be moved out of the open, flat areas.

Tar sands extraction is one more in a long series of insults to the natural resources of Alberta. Logging and oil and gas production are also adversely altering, fragmenting and degrading the boreal forests of Canada. “At last count, 34,773 wells, 66,489 kilometers of seismic lines, 11,591 kilometers of pipelines, and 12,283 kilometers of roads had been built in caribou country in west central and northern Alberta. That doesn’t include the vast areas of forest that have been logged,” according to Struzik. As a result of this extensive habitat destruction, Struzik goes on to say that “over the past five years, the government of Alberta has spent more than $1 million poisoning wolves with strychnine and shooting them from the air. In all, more than 500 wolves” have been destroyed.

Habitat Protection, Restoration Should Be the Focus

Carving up forests is threatening caribou, many experts say, including the Canadian government itself. “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,” states Environment Canada’s proposed caribou recovery plan. More development means more habitat loss, and fewer caribou, wolves and other wildlife. All wildlife need healthy habitats to thrive.

In essence, it seems that Canada has decided to scapegoat wolves for the decline in caribou populations for the sake of promoting yet another polluting, heat-trapping fuel.

Tar Sands: an Environmental Disaster

ar sands oil extraction is wreaking havoc on the environment in Alberta in other ways and there’ll be more through the heart of America if TransCanada gets a permit.

To produce one barrel of this heavy crude, extractors level the forest, dig up four tons of earth, consume two to four barrels of fresh water, burn large amounts of natural gas and create toxic sludge holding ponds. Multiple chemicals can escape from tar sands operations.

Then there are the holding ponds. Operations in Alberta have already created 65 square miles of toxic holding ponds, which could kill scores of migrating birds and pollute downstream watersheds if they fail.

In the United States, the pipeline could impair a broad range of habitats, including many rivers, sage grouse habitat and walleye fisheries. Once built, the pipeline could break and leak. The Keystone XL would carry tar sands sludge and bitumen, a substance more corrosive than crude oil that is thinned with other petroleum condensates and pumped at high pressure and at a temperature of more than 150 degrees through the pipeline.

Finally, there’s the issue of climate change. At a time when we should be cutting carbon emissions to stem climate change, burning more tar sands oil will inject even more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Tar sands produce more carbon pollution per barrel than conventional oil. And this does not take into consideration the destruction of trees that sequester carbon.

More tar sands oil perpetuates the nation’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and dirty 20th century energy systems for another five decades. In short, more tar sands oil means more global warming.

Scapegoating wolves to produce profits for the oil industry, all at the expense of our energy and environmental security, is wrong. Caribou and wolves need habitat. The Canadian government needs to get on board.

Responses to "Wolves to be Poisoned Over Tar Sands in Canada"

  1. Anonymous says:

    That is such crap, I can see the problem but killing the wildlife will so not solve the problem, Conserving their territory will help drastically not destroying it!! So sad :(

  2. Obama needs to get his head out of the pockets of politicians. First it's drop the band on hunting wolves-then it's allowing consumption of horse meat in the USA- what's next? Caribou are grazers- so are cattle, horse and sheep. Cougar, bear, coyote, wolves and our own dogs -have preyed upon these 'grazers' for years. However, caribou,as do our own livestock-can ruin acres of land within months. And to put the raptors and other animals who feed upon carcasses in danger from the strychnine...it will not have a good outcome. If millions of dollars are spent on culling or destroying nature-why not spend it on paying people to come up with a better plan??

  3. Anonymous says:

    WalksWithThunder, you're an idiot. This is in CANADA, not the u.s. Do NOT blame any American for what goes on in any other country. If you don't like what is happening over there, spend YOUR money to go over there and try to get them to stop it. Obama cannot control what goes on in other countries when it comes to things like this.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The co operative has to do with the web of continent / doesn't do any good to start name calling -and I do think that his head has been 'muffled' by some pockets as well- I do think that republican money and energy $$ have a strange obligation they've created by commerce on fuel . thats merely my speculation . I also am miffed that rep see themselves as 'leaders' instead of 'representatives' / money pocket is big and not domestic as should be---WHY doesn't energy go to SOLAR' and why can't more people, like me, live without that damn CAR --((and the computer))OUR WHOLE SYSTEM is based on that damn fuel buck //our government represents' us, not leads' us .//That whole reagan era is atop a financial flow and paranoia stemming from ww2 , ( am not the most educated -but will opinion out there) was just looking at that roswell BS from '48 the same time that israel had the 8 day war - I think $$ folk are just being advantageous and systemic greed just blossoms as reaction- i.e. roswell' was just a hokey distraction from real stuff n too open the space campaign -- some people are just not into the earth as an entity to respect . Stop driving cars n conserve . I bet that mr. model t ford is just flippin in his grave lol .

  5. saver of wolves says:

    i am so sick of the government,money makers only care about more money...animal lovers and conservationalist will prevail if we make our voices heard to the right people,
    we have to email canada embassy or the QUEEN!!!
    somebody has to stop poisening the wolves...bring them all to my land ill take care of them,all 10000+.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We humans are here to watch over the Earth and its resources. We should consume these things with care, use just enough to survive. Unfortunately, we've fallen victim to greed. This same greed will destroy us.

  7. joe spiteri says:

    where dose this stop, it just goes on and on wont there be no peace for these percercuted animals. have they not sufferd enough, shooting them by plane, poisoning them now the suffering must be tremendous in the wild for the wolves and cubs, why is the goverment agreeing to this. this planet is becoming so corrupt.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Its not the wolves that need culling.... is it. 7bn ... when will we learn.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Don't worry though, our population collapse may be at hand, as illustrated by using the tar sands in the first place; easy oil is gone and the life density it has supported will decline.

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