We offer this rebuttal to Terra Hatch’s letter to the editor (April 21) upon the request of concerned residents of the Cariboo-Chilcotin who do not share the author’s view that killing wolves is an acceptable solution to a complex environmental problem. We feel that it is crucial to offer an alternate perspective rooted in ecology and a broader view on the history of post-colonial manipulation of nature in North America.
As the author of the letter stressed, timely inclusion of local knowledge is an essential component of any broad-scale environmental management plan. Local knowledge from those who have spent their lives on the land holds great value in shedding light on trends in landscape and wildlife population changes. However, it is crucial to analyze information presented in order to understand the big picture, including unseen intricacies that are at play, before deciding on harmful management actions such as killing wolves. The ecological processes involved here have occurred within complex systems that stretch back much farther than the author’s offered perspective of three post-colonial generations. While stakeholders in any management plan should listen to a variety of perspectives, we must be careful not to confuse opinions with truth.
The main flaw in the argument provided is the oversimplification of an intricate environmental issue into a battle of predator vs. prey, namely wolf vs. caribou. The author herself points out that there are likely many other factors contributing to the decline in caribou (and moose) populations, yet she has chosen predators to be the only variable of any significance. A simplification like this is driven by what one’s bias has chosen to see and can be reflected in observations made in the field.
Since the author dismissed factors leading to caribou decline other than predation, it is important to point out just a few of the big ones: food and habitat availability, resource competition, and human-caused disturbances.
Prey populations are just as sensitive to food availability as they are to predation. Massive destruction of primary habitat and food resources in the form of unsustainable logging practices, human sprawl and developments are obvious contributors to the decline in ungulates and many other native species. Competition for space is a factor for all wildlife, and humans and domesticated animals fall in the heavyweight category here. Open-range cattle farming has interfered with natural landscapes, drastically reducing access and availability of wild forage for native species. Poaching and mismanaged hunting practices affect both ungulate and carnivore population dynamics. Mining, urban and suburban development, dam-building, and roads are all major contributors to habitat fragmentation and depletion of preferred wildlife habitat. The list goes on, with plenty of sound research to back it.
Ethics aside, even in the face of major landscape changes, predator control has further thrown off the natural balance. Removing the wolf from an ecosystem has proven to cause drastic negative effects on the entire web of life, including ungulate populations.
Can a “bleeding heart” support the horror of prolonged pain and suffering inflicted on wolves, sentient animals, when they are killed with neck snares and aerial gunning? We may be pressed for time to save what’s left of the natural world, but this does not give us the right to systematically destroy other species as a Band-Aid fix.
It is tempting to cling to reasoning such as was presented in the April 21 letter because it provides a simple way to make sense of an overwhelming problem. The author makes it seem like a problem with an obvious solution. Being good-intentioned for the most part, we humans want to solve the problems we’ve created. What we must recognize, however, is that a problem this complex requires an equally complex solution. As a start, our main focus should be habitat conservation. This is not a simple fix and will require ingenuity, collaboration and patience. The claim that the damage has already been done and that it’s too late for habitat protection and restoration is a cop out. If we do not change our land use practices, there is little hope for species that depend on intact ecosystems. The “good ol’ days” are gone, and with them should be archaic practices reminiscent of bounty hunting. We are in a new and dire era of environmental management and are proud to be working with ranchers, guides and sustenance hunters who celebrate and practice a wholistic land ethic. We cannot allow those who destroyed most of the natural world in a mere three generations to hold the reins anymore.
Editor’s note: This letter has been edited for length.
Sadie Parr and Elke van Breemen
Wolf Awareness Inc.