Canadian Wildlife - - WILD THINGS -

com­mon ground among stake­hold­ers. Ryckman, from the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of An­glers & Hunters, and Pat­ter­son, from the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry, for ex­am­ple, both say the fi­nal re­cov­ery strat­egy must have a clearer goal in terms of a tar­get pop­u­la­tion of Al­go­nquin wolves that would con­sti­tute suc­cess­ful re­cov­ery to en­sure long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of the species. Once that is clearly ar­tic­u­lated, says Pat­ter­son, “ev­ery­thing else should flow from that.”

Like­wise, Ryckman, Bar­ron and mem­bers of the nearby First Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties cited above all agree on the need for fur­ther pop­u­la­tion stud­ies. This work would serve to fill in knowl­edge gaps in un­der-stud­ied ar­eas, firm up over­all wolf pop­u­la­tion data, track mor­tal­ity rates and causes, and de­ter­mine where Al­go­nquin wolves are most likely to out­com­pete and re­place the coy­ote pop­u­la­tion in the sur­round­ing ter­ri­tory.

But while the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of An­glers & Hunters says this anal­y­sis should be com­pleted be­fore the province im­poses any fur­ther har­vest re­stric­tions, Bar­ron ar­gues that the two should go hand in hand. Mon­i­tor­ing changes in pop­u­la­tion lev­els and dis­tri­bu­tion af­ter those re­stric­tions are in place, to­gether with doc­u­ment­ing the pos­i­tive im­pact they have on the species, will be key to win­ning greater sup­port from the hunt­ing and trap­ping com­mu­ni­ties. “It’s im­por­tant that we take th­ese steps now so that down the line [the wolves] are hope­fully do­ing well and nu­mer­ous enough that, in the­ory, hunt­ing and trap­ping could be­gin again.”

There are at least three as­pects of the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of An­glers & Hunters po­si­tion that fall short in the eyes of sci­en­tists work­ing on this file, how­ever: first, when it chal­lenges claims that their cur­rent pop­u­la­tion is too low to en­sure the species’ sur­vival; sec­ond, when it sug­gests that hu­man-in­duced mor­tal­ity may not be the wolves’ big­gest threat; and third, its doubts about Al­go­nquin wolves’ abil­ity to ex­pand their foot­print into ad­ja­cent ar­eas now oc­cu­pied by coy­otes once hunt­ing and trap­ping stops.

Linda Rut­ledge, au­thor of the 2015 Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada as­sess­ment that first rec­og­nized the eastern (a.k.a. Al­go­nquin) wolf as a dis­tinct species wor­thy of threat­ened sta­tus, stresses that the to­tal pop­u­la­tion mat­ters less than the “ef­fec­tive pop­u­la­tion,” re­fer­ring loosely to the num­ber of breed­ing in­di­vid­u­als.

“When we cal­cu­lated the ef­fec­tive pop­u­la­tion size of Al­go­nquin wolves … it was be­low 50,” says Rut­ledge, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in bi­ol­ogy and ad­junct pro­fes­sor in en­vi­ron­men­tal and life sciences at Trent Univer­sity. That fig­ure, she says, is a “red flag” that in­di­cates “there might not be enough ge­netic po­ten­tial within this pop­u­la­tion if they keep get­ting har­vested for them to sur­vive, def­i­nitely in the long term. But even in the short term, it’s right on that edge.”

Given this “pre­car­i­ous” sit­u­a­tion, Rut­ledge’s view on ex­tend­ing pro­tec­tion into ar­eas where th­ese wolves are cur­rently hunted is that we should be do­ing any­thing un­der our con­trol to sup­port their per­sis­tence. “We know that that’s ef­fec­tive and that’s one thing we can do,” she says, even if “we don’t en­tirely know the out­come of ex­panded pro­tec­tion for coy­otes.”

She has no doubt they’ll find lots of suit­able habi­tat and carve out their space among the coy­otes. “Be­haviourally, they’re dif­fer­ent,” says Rut­ledge. “The only rea­son they don’t do well out­side of pro­tected ar­eas [to­day] is that they aren’t pro­tected.”

Ryckman’s ar­gu­ment that hu­man-in­duced mor­tal­ity may no longer be the al­go­nquin wolf’ s big­gest threat is based on re­search fol­low­ing the clo­sure of the town­ships sur­round­ing Al­go­nquin Park to wolf hunt­ing and trap­ping in the early 2000s — a mea­sure that met a lot of pub­lic op­po­si­tion at the time yet has since proved suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing hy­bridiza­tion and sta­bi­liz­ing the pop­u­la­tion. Th­ese are ar­eas that many wolves travel to, es­pe­cially in win­ter, to feed on deer that mi­grate out of the park. Once wolves were pro­tected there, their pop­u­la­tions in the park re­bounded and in­ner-pack strife, rather than hunt­ing and trap­ping, be­came a big­ger cause of mor­tal­ity. But ac­cord­ing to Rut­ledge, this ex­trap­o­la­tion fails to con­sider that wolves reared in the park, where all the ter­ri­tory is oc­cu­pied by other packs, have nowhere to dis­perse to within this closed sys­tem. “If they go out­side of Al­go­nquin, they face hunt­ing and trap­ping and ve­hi­cles, but if they stay in the park, they face fights with other packs.” Open up more ter­ri­tory, and more wolves will dis­perse, she says.

Ex­panded pro­tec­tion in Que­bec as well as On­tario would help the out­look, Rut­ledge adds. How­ever, the like­li­hood of sig­nif­i­cant changes there is low. Que­bec has a more lib­eral har­vest pol­icy, and even if the fed­eral govern­ment does move to rec­og­nize COSEWIC’S up­grad­ing of the eastern wolf from species of con­cern to threat­ened, that does not trig­ger a change in the list­ing un­der the Species at Risk Act. It could take years for any changes to take place in the ac­tual man­age­ment prac­tices on the land.


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