Oh Canada! B.C. and Alberta Governments Plan to Kill Hundreds of Wolves

B.C. Wolf in the Great Bear Rainforest

B.C. Wolf in the Great Bear Rainforest.

In another sad attempt by politicians to fix the ecology informed by simplistic cause and effect science that has been proven wrong about 50 years old, the B.C. government has started a wolf kill in which 180 wolves are to be located by the radiocolars some of the wolves wear to make them trackable by scientists, then shot from helicopters. The official idea is to protect the last surviving woodland caribou, which have been severely decimated by … you guessed it: humans, not wolves; habitat loss to be precise.

Here is an idea of how senseless these measures are: The U.S. National Park Service stopped what was cynically called “predator control” in the 1960s, and in fact reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1998. This has been one of the greatest success stories of human animal control of the last decades, simply because it meant less rather than more control of an ecosystem that has developed through co-evolution over millions of years. Not so the B.C. government, or the Alberta government, which has killed over 1000 wolves since 2005 according to Alberta wildlife photographer John Marriott (that is the entire wolf population of Yellowstone and then some each year for the past 10 years!), and apparently politicians are considering stepping up their game by killing even more wolves so that they do not have to stop human habitat destruction. The whole procject is, of course, not only highly unethical, but also scientifically unsound, and pointless. As Canadian researchers have shown in a paper published only two months ago, there has been no effect of the Alberta mass slaughter, other than a thousand dead wolves, of course (see here; the site also gives other good reasons to oppose the killings). A sad day for a country with some of the greatest nature, but sadly not the greatest track record of protecting it – to put it mildly.

So what can we do?

If you are in BC or Alberta, write to your governmen, call them, visit them. Make your opinion heard. If you are neither in BC nor in Alberta that does not stop you from writing to the provincial governments, of course. Since they are not your (or my) representatives they probably won’t care too much about our votes, but they may care about our tourist dollars. After all these pay for the wolf killings. Many voices promising to boycott the two provinces may make a difference. They certainly will not hurt. Tell them you had planned to go to B.C. / Alberta this year and that you are now reconsidering. If you hadn’t consider it, consider it now, then change your mind. Wyoming, Montana and Colorado have beautiful mountains, too, as do the Alps for that matter. And Washington State also has a nice temperate rain forest. Pacific Wild’s website has a link to a preformulated email with the right addresses for B.C. here. Marriott has the Alberta addresses here. The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals also has sample letters and addresses, here and here. All these sites also have more background as well as other links which support the point that the wolf kills are not only unethical but show no effect on the caribou population they are supposed to save.

You can also support the folks at Pacific Wild, Ian and Karen McAlister and their supporters, who have done more in recent years for B.C. than most by donating money to their campaign to stop the wolf kill.

If you cannot give money and do not want to write, you can also sign their petition, which takes about 2 seconds. Over 100,000 others have already done so. It may not make a huge difference, but it certainly won’t hurt.

Thank you for caring about these wonderful and intelligent creatures!


The Great Bear Rainforest

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the Great Bear Rainforest. The GBR, originally known as one of the most special places in British Columbia and home to the illusive spirit bear, one of the major photographic goals of my trip, sadly has recently become a place which has received less positive media exposure as the object of desire of Alberta’s Enbridge company which is planning to end its Northern Gateway oil pipeline in Kitimat, just outside the Great Bear Rainforest. As if this was not bad news enough in itself, considering Enbridge’s record of leaky pipelines and a general tendency towards hubris in our species, Enbridge furthermore plans to send super tankers down the coast, a body of water which has a reputation of being exposed to really severe weather conditions and is difficult enough to maneuver even in favorable conditions. The idea behind all this is to open the Asian markets for Canada’s tar sands, which in themselves are another major environmental concern. Staying with the topic of having around 225 oil tankers a year cruise up and down a rough body of water along a pristine ecosystem, however, I do not believe that it takes a genius to figure out that this is calling for trouble (besides continuing the great Canadian tradition of trampling Native land claims under foot) – trouble that could easily reach the proportions of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in the late 1980s when one of the ships runs on ground as it is bound to sooner or later. If you are as concerned about this as I am, Pacific Wild’s website might be a good place to start, but there are literally dozens of other groups opposing this madness, offering petitions to sign etc.
Now to my trip, though. It would be an understatement to say that the trip exceeded my expectations. Among the highlights were the chance to see and photograph spirit bears (initially a somewhat hyperreal experience considering how much I had read and image-searched earlier, but eventually a very special moment), see four humpbacks breaching almost in perfect synchronicity literally 30 or 40 meters from our boat, photographing coastal wolves (though from afar), seeing and photographing my first pine marten, and finally witnessing one of the most obscenely gorgeous photographic scenes I had ever seen: grizzlies in front of a rain forest scene with the early morning sun burning away the fog; a scene so perfect one could not have improved it with a brush and canvas – oh, and did I mention the two eagles sitting in the tree to the left?
Anyway, I will be silent so you can have a look at my images. There are more images from the trip on my website.

A bald eagle taking off.

Curious pine marten.

Black Bear on Gribbell Island.

My first spirit bear. Spirit (or Kermode) bears are black bears who carry a recessive allele that gives some of them white fur. There are only a couple white hundred individuals, most of them around Princess Royal Island.

Breaching Humpback Whale.

Grizzly Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The first (and possibly last) arboreal seal I have ever seen.

Coastal Wolf in Rescue Bay. These wolves fish for salmon along the creeks and are pretty damn elusive. This image was taken with my 500 mm lens, but nevertheless turned out to be more of an animal scape.

Critter Care

As mentioned in my last post I joined the lovely people of The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals for their visit to Critter Care earlier this month. Critter Care is the only shelter in the Lower Mainland devoted exclusively to fur-bearing animals and so seems to be a natural partner for the Fur-Bearer Defenders. Luckily they wanted some decent images of the animals to promote their fund-raising for Critter Care so this is where I came in.
The shelter is, not surprisingly, a shelter. While they keep their cages as close to a natural environment as possible their room and resources are very limited and they have a lot of animals to take care of. While all the animals are well-loved and -cared for, the logistics make it very hard to take ‘wild’ looking images of the animals. It might be possible if I were to spend long stretches of time with the animals and make them comfortable with my presence, as I tend to when photographing in the wild. But this of course runs contrary to the idea behind the shelter. They want to rear animals that can be released into the wild and will not end up in people’s backyards after a week, because they are too comfortable around humans which is the reason they try minimize contact with different humans. There was nothing to do but to compromise my photography in the interest of the animals (which I was happy to do of course, wildlife photography should be about the animals, not the photographer’s ego). To make matters even more challenging, however, a lot of the animals were so small they were not yet released to their outside cages but fed inside the main office. As a result I decided to focus on images of human-animal interaction, since I felt that these would be the best images I could get in the limited time I had.
Whatever the photographic possibilities and challenges, however, seeing baby animals is good for the heart; it is nowhere as good as seeing a wild animal (I am still a wildlife photographer with all my heart – more on that in the next post), but, hey, a baby otter peed on my sweater and I pride myself that there are not many people who have had that experience – not even among wildlife photographers.
Below is a slideshow of some of the better images from Critter Care. A few might end up in the Fur-Bearer Defenders’ next newsletter if they like them (I am meeting executive director Lesley Fox later today), so keep your eyes open if you are a member, if not become one NOW :). Quite obviously all photos are of ‘captive’ animals.

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The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals / A chance to use my photos for animals

Kessi and I went to a meeting of The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals last Saturday and were impressed enough with their work and professionalism to join the Association on the spot, and to sign up to volunteer at one of their info tables, at the EPIC tomorrow, in fact.

Furthermore folks at the Association are in desperate need of a wildlife photographer (well, I might be exaggerating a bit), and seem really interested in using some of my images (which I will be donating) for their newsletters, campaigns to ban trapping for fur, the trapping of so called “nuisance animals” like beavers and coyotes and so on. I might also get a chance to sell some prints at their info tables, in which case I would of course donate some of the profits.

What is even more exciting, is that it looks as if I will be joining the Fur-Bearer Defender staff on their visit to a shelter for orphaned and hurt North American animals in early June, Critter Care in Langley. The shelter is not usually open to the public and this sounds like a great chance to get images of some rare and / or small animals I might not easily get to photograph in an ethical setup, i.e. not a zoo or one of those despicable game farms that some so called wildlife photographers chose to support.

I hope I will manage to take some good photos, from what I have seen of Critter Care so far the shelters were not exactly set up with photography in mind. I will keep you posted once I get results.

So as not to upload another post without images here are a few images of fur-bearing animals and some background on how they are affected by trapping and hunting, the list is of course much longer and I won’t even go into the issue of fur farms, not today anyhow:

Beaver, Alaska

Communities like to trap and kill beavers as they see them as “nuisance animals,” at least when the little guys have the temerity of establishing their home base next to people’s houses. While it is true that beavers occasionally cause flooding, they are extremely predictable in their habits and there are a number of cheap, non-lethal alternatives such as pond levelers and Beaver Deceivers (I just love the name) to ensure that people and beavers can happily coexist.
Furthermore scientists are beginning to understand that beavers have a positive impact on the environment, e.g. by re-naturalizing rivers and thus providing salmon habitat.

Coyote, Alberta

Don’t ask me why but coyotes, too, have a really bad rep throughout North America. Maybe it has to do with the fact that most people can’t tell coyotes and wolves apart, and that wolves have been leading actors in way too many scary stories. Considering the love most folks have for dogs their neglect or hate for wolves and coyotes strikes me as extremely irrational, especially when one sees how closely wolves, coyotes and dogs are related.
Anyway, communities and other undereducated members of the public like to trap, shoot, maim and kill coyotes for various reasons. On top of that the RCMP has apparently recently added coyote fur trim to some of their winter jackets in addition to the muskrat fur they use for their caps. Great job, Constable Fraser and company!

Remember those silly black hats the guards outside Buckingham Palace wear? Unbelievably they are still made out of Canadian black bear fur, one bear per hat. Talk about unnecessary cruelty …
Having spent quite a bit of time with these magnificent animals in the wild this is one point that particularly riles me. It is just as bad as those pathetic cowardly $#%& who want to reaffirm their manhood by shooting defenseless bears (did someone say Sarah Palin) – which of course is also still legal in BC…