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MNRF wolf, coyote plan raises ire of conservationists

Sault This Week,
Bob Mihell,
February 2 2016

The Ontario government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is proposing major changes to rules for hunting wolves and coyotes in Northern Ontario that has provoked a strong backlash from one of the province’s most influential charitable conservation organizations.

Ontario Nature, with the support of the David Suzuki Foundation, demand the MNRF abort its plan to implement changes in 2017 that would allow hunting of both species with a small game license only. Hunters would no longer need to purchase a separate game seal. The cost of the game seal is $11 for Ontario residents, and $272 for non-residents.

The proposal also would eliminate the limit on the number of coyotes harvested during hunting season. The existing limits for the annual harvest of both wolves and coyotes is two.

While hunters still would be required to report their kills to the MNRF, they would no longer have to report wolf and coyote sightings or their hunting activities, if the proposal is implemented.

The hunting season for both species would continue to extend from Sept. 15 until March 31.

Dr. Anne Bell, director of conservation and education for Ontario Nature, wrote, “Removing the requirement to purchase a game seal eliminates the hassle for hunters – anyone can shoot a wolf or coyote, on the spot. At the same time, it eliminates an important source of funding for research and MNRF enforcement of hunting regulations.”

The government’s planned changes were posted on the MNRF’s Environmental Registry (#012-6073) for public feedback only until Jan. 25.

Bell also expressed strong criticism of the government’s timing for inviting public feedback through the Environmental Registry beginning on Dec. 17 when most people are very busy with holiday plans and activities.

She said that this is not the first occasion the government has slid a proposal onto the Registry at a busy time of year when most people are preoccupied, and less likely to be aware it’s there, or able to find the time to comment.

For its part, the MNRF justifies the proposed relaxation of rules for hunting wolves and coyotes in the north on two factors.

As part of its Moose Project that began in 2009, the ministry has targeted wolf predation as one reason for the decline of moose populations in certain regions of Northern Ontario.

Second, they point out that an increase in the numbers of coyotes has become a cause of concern to livestock farmers in the region.

Bell, however, argued that there are frequent contradictions in the MNRF’s own documentation on factors affecting moose population and survival in Northern Ontario that suggest making it easier and cheaper to hunt wolves would not result in the intended outcome of stabilizing or increasing moose numbers.

In their eight-page submission to the MNRF, Bell and Rachel Plotkin, Ontario Science Projects manager for the David Suzuki Foundation, note that the MNRF has admitted, “Removing just a few wolves from each pack will not decrease overall predation on moose”.

They add that the MNRF backgrounder observes that wolf predation increases as moose populations grow, but concedes, “This naturally regulates the density of the moose population, and is ultimately beneficial to moose and the ecosystems they rely on.”

Bell told Sault This Week, “The MNRF don’t have the numbers on wolves; they don’t have the numbers on coyotes; and they don’t understand what is happening with the moose. So what is this all about?”

In its own report on possible causes of moose population decline that appear to be of most concern in the more northerly part of Northern Ontario stretching from Hearst to James Bay, according to the MNRF’s population density counts, the authors describe a variety of factors at play besides wolf predation.

These include a number of diseases and parasites, bear predation, climate change, loss of habitat due to human influence, and hunting by humans.

On the latter point, Bell and Plotkin noted in their submission to the ministry that although the number of moose have remained fairly stable from the 1980s up to today, even increasing overall, pressure from hunters has risen over the last three decades.

They point out that the MNRF has acknowledged in its own studies that the extension of the hunting season from two to four weeks to two-three months; improved access roads; the allowance of party hunting; and the common use of all-terrain vehicles and wireless communication all have greatly improved the success rate for moose hunters. It has doubled since the 1980s for hunters using guns, and more than doubled for hunters with bows.

“Given the uncertainties about many factors that might be implicated in moose decline, coupled with the MNRF’s inability to actually control most of these factors, it would seem that the most reasonable management option available is to control human activity – in this case, most obviously, hunting.”

Regarding making wolves and coyotes scapegoats, Bell and Plotkin stressed that there are substantial scientific data and examples, that the removal of apex predators, such as wolves and coyotes, could trigger an ecological chain reaction with drastic unintended consequences on flora and fauna.

Sault This Week requested an interview with MNRF but was told to send written questions. The ministry had not responded more than a week after submissions were sent. The newspaper will publish MNRF’s reply once it is received.