A couple of weeks ago, I went on a wolf howl, a rudimentary attempt to talk with wolves, connect with other beings. Others have had more profound conversations.
I’ve heard Norma Kassi talk about her grandfather speaking with wolves; and Harry Morris, an elder from Teslin, has told me about “old people” who talked with wolves. It was a serious business.
These stories make me think people have not always lived in such conflict with wolves, that folks could work things out with the wolves more respectfully than today.
Before the Aishihik wolf kill was authorized in 1992, Harry Morris gave those willing to listen much to think about. He said his people kill wolves, but “the wolf must never be made a fool of.” Similarly, respect for wolves was a common thread throughout the 1992 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
Of course, everyone had their own interpretation of respect, but it was a common frame that the original plan’s authors could return to when contentious points were debated. Compromises on these points were reached with an eye to respect.
The Aishihik experience was painful. It was expensive and it humiliated wolves and our territory. However, this experience did confirm that wolf kills don’t work!
There are few ways to increase ungulate numbers: reduce hunting pressures, reduce habitat loss or engage in a permanent wolf killing.
Unfortunately, the newly proposed plan omits important provisions of the original. This should alarm Yukoners.
The most important item dropped from the 1992 plan was recommendation 7.1:
Future management of caribou, moose, and sheep and their habitat in the Yukon must have the objective that populations are not allowed to reach levels where wolf reduction might be considered necessary. This management responsibility is considered part of the “public trust,” which the Environment Act (Yukon) requires the government of the Yukon to protect.
This recommendation requires a precautionary approach to management. Why is it deleted? Unless the authors want to bring back wolf killing.
Also, the 1992 plan considers wolf kills in specific areas only when:
9.1.1 Wolf reduction will be considered when a geographically separate population of ungulates are threatened with local extinction. Or
9.1.2 Wolf reductions will be considered when declining or low ungulate populations are such that conservation measures, such as a total allowable harvest, are applied either through Yukon land claims process or an equivalent process. And
9.1.3 If a wolf control program is being considered, biological information, which can include local knowledge and extrapolation from other studies, must be collected over a period spanning two hunting seasons. During this period, a hunting closure will be placed on the area…
Poof, these recommendations have disappeared too.
Now consider some of the newly proposed provisions:
The proposal says in cases of emergency, the minister may still consider aerial control of wolves. Why allow this if wolf kills don’t work? At first this may seem an incompetent recommendation, maybe it is. But, is something else afoot?
Remember, there is no longer a requirement to take a precautionary approach to management
(7.1 ), to apply conservation measures (9.1.4) or conduct two hunting seasons of research prior to any wolf kill (9.1.3). The new proposals allow the minister to make ad hoc decisions based on grumblings of vocal minorities.
This is bad policy for any minister, to be subjected to controversial issues without tools needed for careful consideration and caution.
Also, the proposal states wolf kills “must be ongoing to be successful.” Is it setting the stage for long-term wolf killing?
Consider the passage: “Generally when there is a need to reduce hunting pressure, ungulate harvest is managed through the limited entry permit system. Many communities expressed concern that this system is biased against local hunters by virtue of the fact the majority of those people licensed live in Whitehorse.”
I agree there is a problem; hunting pressure needs to be reduced, and community needs need to be protected.
However, instead of doing the hard work of creating a management system that is not biased against the communities, the wolves are made the scapegoat. “Use wolf harvest as a management tool.” The clear message is, we can’t be bothered to manage human over-hunting; we’d rather just kill wolves.
What does “wolf harvest as a management tool” mean? The Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (1992) set a bag limit of three wolves per year. This has been upped to seven. Why do people need to kill more than three wolves, especially when the meat isn’t eaten? Now seven isn’t enough. Trappers have the job of fur harvest, there is legislation that allows people to protect pets and livestock. So what’s up?
Simply, “targeting several wolf packs may allow hunters and trappers to hold wolf numbers below natural levels and result in an increase in moose and caribou numbers.” This is disturbing.
Removing bag limits is setting the stage for vigilante wolf killing. And, since wolf killing must be ongoing to be successful, the plan creates conditions for permanent wolf killing around communities.
The current authors have thrown out “conservation.” This proposal would be more aptly named the “Wolf Killing Plan,” or the “Wolf Humiliation Plan.”
The land claim agreement has brought changes since 1992. It will work even better when all levels of government, and all actors, find ways to move more quickly to resolve conservation issues Ã like ATV use, hunting on highway corridors and protecting communities’ interests in hunting. Removing conservation incentives from policy will not help.
It would be easy to conclude we didn’t learn a thing from the Aishihik agonies. However, I suspect this proposal reflects a vocal minority. I think most Yukoners do not want to make a fool of the wolf. But, we must speak up. This is about more than wolves; it’s also about how we connect with the land and all its other inhabitants. We need to know where our leaders stand. Join me in asking:
Darrell Pasloski, Liz Hanson, and Arthur Mitchell: Will you refuse to approve any wolf conservation plan that in not based on precautionary principles aiming to prevent ungulate populations from declining to the point where wolf reduction might be considered necessary?