Friday, March 13, 2009

Wolf population reaches ‘epidemic proportions’

A 2004 decision by the Ministry of Natural Resources to create a permanent ban on harvesting wolves in 40 townships around Algonquin Park is having serious repercussions, according to Huntsville resident Gerald Borley.

Borley believes wolf populations are approaching “epidemic proportions” in central Ontario — specifically in the Muskoka and Haliburton areas. He has written a letter to Minister of Natural Resources Donna Cansfield explaining his position on the need to reinstate the harvesting of wolves.

The ban was first announced in 2001, but it was implemented for only 30 months, so in 2004 the ministry put a permanent ban in place.

An avid hunter and naturalist, Borley states that over the last five years, he has witnessed an “exploding wolf population” in the area.

“As the years have passed the wolf numbers have grown dramatically and their numbers are such now that they are decimating our deer and moose populations at a staggering rate,” said Borley. “Prior to the ministry’s decision to implement the no-wolf (harvesting) zones, local hunters were allowed to trap wolves up to the Algonquin Park boundary, which in itself helped keep the wolf population under control.”

Borley said that as a hunter who has hunted the same 1,000 acres in Lake of Bays for 25 years, he has noticed a dramatic decline in the amount of game on the property. He has also observed moose cows without calves, does without fawns and an abundance of wolf tracks with scat containing hair.

“There’s wolves all over and the MNR is closing their eyes to it,” he said. “We know our bush well and this is what has stood out to us over the past few years.”

Borley is concerned for a number of reasons. He says sightings of wolves in the Muskoka area were considered rare up until about six years ago and wolves are now becoming bold enough to enter rural areas. A big part of the reason for that, he said, is that deer have moved into more populated areas due to fear of the wolves.

“I live in a small subdivision just outside of town and had a wolf walk through my backyard, and my neighbour across the road saw one walk right down the road between our houses,” said Borley. “One of my hunting partners woke up early one morning to an awful bunch of growling and barking only to find that two wolves were standing at the pen where he keeps his dog. As he opened his side door the wolves left. Had the dog been in a kennel, it likely would have been killed.”

Borley has heard many recent stories about wolves entering rural areas. For example, he said in Dwight a group of children were playing in their driveway when suddenly three wolves appeared. Fortunately, the family dog was in the vicinity and it ran out to challenge the wolves. Although it was not killed, the dog was nearly mangled to death.

“When the ministry opened up the no-harvesting zone around the park, it provided more room to breed, and our wildlife in the last few years has died right down,” said Borley. “Our game is disappearing.”

Barry Radford, senior communications adviser for the MNR, stated he would not comment on whether the MNR has received an increase in reports of wolf sightings because he does not field those calls. He did say, however, that there is an increase in predators in general entering rural areas across the province, and these high populations tend to follow behind the growth of prey, which in the case of the wolf is deer.

“Wolves do what they do,” he said. “They venture out of the park, often pursuing deer. Once these predators have adapted to human habitation and sources of food, trying to relocate them is not an option. Predator populations are high because there’s an abundance of food.”

Radford said the reason the MNR put a prohibition in the 40 townships around Algonquin Park was to help preserve the park’s existing wolf population, which is a unique subspecies.

When asked if the MNR would ever consider reinstating wolf harvesting zones, he replied, “It would be a matter of what the circumstances are at that time.”

Rick Stronks, Algonquin Park’s chief naturalist, confirmed that in 2000 an advisory group put together a report on the need to protect the park’s rare wolf subspecies, known as the eastern wolf. The wolf is closely related to the red wolf that exists in the United States. He said one of the main reasons behind the research was to determine the exact species of the wolf and if this is an animal at risk of extinction.

“We do believe it is a different species than the grey wolf, and we know the population seems to be stable as opposed to going down,” said Stronks, adding that research has also shown the wolf population extends outside the park. “Leading up to the ban, there was a question about what species of wolves we have. If unique, we need to protect it, not just in the park but in surrounding areas. Wolves live in territories and they don’t know what their boundaries are. To be on the conservative side, the minister said ‘let’s protect the wolves and research this animal.’”

Lake of Bays resident/photographer Peter Glen, who has lived in the area since 2000, indicated that over the years he has noticed an increase in wolf populations. Glen has been able to capture some close-ups with his camera of wolves feasting on a dead deer about 200 feet from his kitchen window. He said when he made a sudden noise, the wolves “stood and stared at me and weren’t too keen on seeing any faces.”

“I did see evidence of them before, but it was mostly scat and dead deer that had been killed on the ice or in the bush,” he said. “I feed the deer sometimes during the winter and they do accumulate here. When I went in (to the township office) to pay my tax bill, I found out that the whole area around where I live is considered a doe yard.”

An excerpt featured in the February edition of Ontario Out of Doors stated that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs paid $1,038,618 in compensation for wolf/coyote predation on livestock and poultry in 2007/2008. Over the past few years, there has generally been an increase in compensation across the province and in areas around the Grey-Bruce region (Owen Sound) and northern and eastern parts of the province have been making more claims.

In 2008, the Town of Huntsville received five claims for killed livestock, totalling $1,628.15, and in 2007 received three claims totalling $753.75. The Township of Lake of Bays received one claim in 2008, which totalled $297 and three in 2007 totalling $802.24.


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