Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alberta approves killing six wolves in national park after ‘cows ripped open from one end to the other’

Otiena Ellwand, Postmedia News |
A pack of wolves that roam Elk Island National Park and Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area has grown in the past few years, raising concerns for farmers after several cattle were killed this summer.
    A pack of wolves roaming Elk Island National Park and a neighbouring provincial recreation area has grown in the past few years, and concerned farmers believe the wolves killed several grazing cattle this summer.

    Dan Brown, president of the Blackfoot Grazing Association, said 29 calves, yearlings and cows have either been killed or have gone missing from pasture in the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Grazing,

    Wildlife and Provincial Recreation Area, about 50 kilometres east of Edmonton, since the end of May. He believes wolves are largely to blame. “We’ve had cows that have been absolutely ripped open from one end to the other and the majority of that was done when they were still alive,” he said.
    What happens when the greater Edmonton public hears that we’re killing wolves in a provincial park because of livestock grazing?
    In an attempt to manage the wolf pack and minimize the impact on livestock, the Alberta government has approved the culling of six wolves by the grazing association inside the provincial recreation area. So far, three have been killed. “This is a very complex and difficult situation,” said Paul Frame, a carnivore specialist with Alberta Environment. “What happens when the greater Edmonton public hears that we’re killing wolves in a provincial park because of livestock grazing? “We have no idea what killing six wolves is going to do.”

    Brown doesn’t think six is enough to make a difference.

    “If something isn’t done in the off-season, there will be next to nobody willing to put cattle back in there next summer, including myself.”

    According to the Alberta Parks website, some provincial parks and recreation areas allow grazing for “conservation, vegetation management and range management purposes.” The Cooking Lake-Blackfoot area is a multi-use park that boasts mountain biking, snowshoeing and dog sledding trails, as well as livestock grazing, trapping and seasonal hunting. Cattle have been grazing in the area since the 1920s.

    The grazing association’s 23 members have 1,800 head of cattle on the provincial pasture from May to October. On average, the association has six livestock deaths per season from natural causes. This year, they decided to pull the cattle out a month early, an economic loss of about $200,000, Brown said.

    “We put these cattle out there to gain weight during the summer. If the wolves are chasing them around — which we saw on numerous occasions — they were all standing in the corner just soaking wet from sweating and panting. They’re just exhausted,” Brown said.

    It’s unclear how many wolves actually live in the area because they are difficult to count accurately. A couple of wolves have been roaming the area for about three or four years, but the pack has grown because of the amount of native prey in protected parks.

    Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development says it has received reports of 12 to 15 wolves in the pack, while the grazing association believes there are more than 25.

    Frame said a single pack, or wolf family, would not be that large on its own, and there’s not enough space to sustain more than one pack.

    Alberta Environment has established a working group with stakeholders, including the grazing association and parks, to deal with the issue. It also provides compensation to those farmers who lose livestock to predation.

    “We have to work together to try to reach a solution to keep this problem at an acceptable level for the grazing association,” Frame said.

    But the grazing association also has to accept that wolves are part of the landscape now and will remain, he said.