Tar Sands Development to Lead to Poisoning of Wolves

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

Wolf Pups

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.

Read the full story on NWF's Media Center.

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