The gray wolf of North America includes several subspecies: the white arctic wolf, the red wolf of the southwest, the grey timber wolf of the eastern forests, and the big western wolf. Alberta can boast some of the largest and most handsome of all wolves, which belong to the Canis lupus occidentalis group. They are mostly confined to the Rocky Mountains, foothills, and boreal forest regions. Present-day wolves are estimated to number around 4,000 in Alberta.
- Since 2005, when the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) released its Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan, Alberta’s wolves have been singled out for official culling in order to improve prospects for one of the wolf’s prey species, the caribou. During the winter of 2005/06, 89 wolves were shot from helicopters in caribou habitat, and the killing program continued in 2006/07. Since then, SRD has begun to use poison to again “control” the resilient wolf.
- Why wolves – and possibly moose, deer, and elk – face extraordinary culling is a complex story that fails to include vitally important measures to preserve their wilderness habitat, which truly could save caribou from further declines. It is a story perhaps best told by wolf specialist Dick Dekker (see Wild Lands Advocate June 2007).
- Wolf persecution is as old as humans, and in Alberta it has been part of our culture ever since Europeans began moving into wolf habitat, which once included all of Alberta and in fact all of North America, with the exception of tropical regions.
- Prior to the spread of humans throughout the world, the wolf was the single most widely distributed land mammal. Now, on this continent, only the northern tier of Canada and parts of the USA, including Alaska, are home to healthy populations of wolves.
- Some municipalities and organizations such as Alberta Foundation for Wild Sheep and local Fish and Game Associations are now offering bounties for dead wolves. Though Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is nominally responsible for managing wildlife in Alberta, they refuse to become involved in these highly questionable bounty schemes.
The inter-relationship between wolves and their mostly wild ungulate prey is an essential part of healthy ecosystems, especially for wildlife that occupy large, intact tracts of wilderness. For this inter-relationship to endure into the future, the following conditions must be met:
- Treating large predators, including wolves, as essential components of healthy, sustainable ecosystems;
- Managing wild ungulate populations in sufficient numbers to support healthy and balanced ecosystems able to support viable populations of large predators;
- Protecting and managing key habitat throughout the province’s natural regions that are large enough to ensure healthy populations of both ungulates and predator species, including the wolf. This requires that habitat protection be the primary concern in such areas.
- To the south of Canada, the wolf is listed as a threatened species under the American Endangered Species Act. Canada has no such designation for the wolf, despite the fact that it has been extirpated from much of its former habitat.
- In Alberta, wolves were afforded some protection in 1964, when they made the leap from vermin to being classified as fur-bearing carnivores. This designation brings the wolf under provincial trapping and hunting regulations. Currently it may be taken by registered trappers during the winter and hunted as a trophy animal during the full hunting season from September until the end of May. On private lands, it can be killed at any time. It is also subject to periodic culls by provincial biologists when ASRD deems it necessary. Even though a 1991 wolf management plan ensured that wolf control intended to enhance other wildlife needed the support of public opinion, this is rarely sought.