Wolf-culling policies need updating, Alberta conservationist says

Kevin Van Tighem, a wolf researcher and conservationist, is calling on the Alberta government to change the regulations around how wolf populations are managed in the province.

'You or I could go out and kill as many wolves as we want tomorrow and that would all be legal'

Conservationist Kevin Van Tighem would like to see Alberta wolves fitted with radio collars so scientists and wildlife officers can better track troublesome individuals and packs. (Derek Meier)

A wolf researcher and conservationist is calling on the Alberta government to change the regulations around how wolf populations are managed in the province.

Alberta has a healthy wolf population at present, and enough natural prey animals to sustain that population — yet they are treated like vermin, said Kevin Van Tighem, who retired in 2011 as the superintendent of Banff National Park.

Under current rules, people are allowed to hunt wolves without a licence or quota on public land between October and June. Hunting on private land is allowed throughout the year.

"You or I could go out and kill as many wolves as we want tomorrow and that would all be legal," Van Tighem told Edmonton AM host Trisha Estabrooks Monday.

Kevin Van Tighem, who retired in 2011 as the superintendent of Banff National Park, says wolf-culling policies need to be changed. (Kevin Van Tighem/Facebook)
Most hunters will use some form of bait station, Van Tighem said, and will lie in wait until the wolves come close. Trappers will often surround the bait site with wire snares to help entangle the animals, he said.

In cases where wolves are perceived to be causing problems for local livestock, provincial wildlife officers may put out poison, Van Tighem said.

"Basically, our regulations allow for a variety of ways of killing wolves, and some of those ways are exceptionally cruel — and would never be allowed for other animals."

The root of the problem, said Van Tighem, is the "long and complicated relationship between humans and wolves."

Historically, conflicts between livestock and wolves were a valid concern. But improved technology now exists to keep the animals apart, Van Tighem said. Long-held prejudicial attitudes against wolves remain in place, particularly when it comes to the province's culling policy.

"People just aren't rational when it comes to wolves. Either they love them too much or they hate them too much," Van Tighem said.

He said current regulations, which allow generalized culling, are largely rooted in the latter perspective, something Van Tighem would like to see changed.

Listen to the full interview:

Invest in tracking wolves

Van Tighem suggests Alberta introduce wolf culling practices that seek out and control problematic packs and individual animals by using radio collars to track their movements.

"The assumption that if you have wolves you're going to have problems just doesn't stand up when you look at what actually happens out there."

Not all wolves are equally troublesome, Van Tighem said, and many packs live in close proximity to livestock herds without any problems.

Building upon a successful program in Montana, and his own anecdotal experience working near Waterton, Alta., Van Tighem said monitoring animals and intervening when issues arise is a more effective long-term solution than generalized culling.

When wolf packs are broken down randomly, as is the case at present, remaining members are forced to abandon their natural hunting strategies in favour of seeking out easy prey such as livestock, he said.

"It can be costly to monitor wolves, but if you allow wolf packs to become more stable than they are right now, where we're constantly breaking them up with this random killing, if you allow wolf packs to distribute themselves naturally on the landscape … your problems will diminish," he said. "Because those wolves know how to make a living without getting too close to us.

"It's managing wolves on a pack basis rather than just randomly killing every wolf you can find and hoping that somehow problems will disappear."

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