BOUNTIES AND KILLING CONTESTS
In Alberta and Saskatchewan there are several regions where people are paid anywhere between $15 and $500 to bring in a dead wolf or coyote (or evidence thereof). Decades of research shows that bounties are ineffective in the long-term for reducing or preventing livestock losses. When wild canids are removed from their territory, others from surrounding areas will move in to fill the empty void they leave.
Thus, a vicious killing cycle continues.
Bounty killing programs are neither ecologically sustainable nor ethically acceptable.
In Alberta, there are three types of wolf bounty programs underway:
1. Bounties publicly funded by local municipalities - often carried out due to complaints regarding conflicts with livestock;
2. Bounties funded by Private Interest Groups;
3. Bounties publicly funded by the province of Alberta (winter 2017/18) ostensibly as part of caribou recovery.
After being shut down more than 40 years ago in Canada, numerous counties in Alberta and Saskatchewan are once again offering bounty payments to kill wolves and coyotes. Read this timely article Predator Bounties in Western Canada Cause Animal Suffering and Compromise Wildlife Conservation Efforts.
Cyclic canid killing programs are not new to North America but it is a wonder they continue despite the high controversy surrounding bounties, especially as several modern-day livestock producers have become "predator-friendly" through non-lethal methods which are proving effective.
While depredation of livestock can be a serious concern for individual producers, wolves account for approximately 1 - 5 % of overall livestock losses on a large scale in North America; weather, calving, toxic plants, transportation, and respiratory problems each pose a larger concern to producers.
Substantial research shows that when wolves are indiscriminately killed, families experience pack disintegration (loss of social stability regardless of population size) which can lead to increased prey killed per capita and more conflicts with livestock.
Indiscriminate killing is counter-productive as it results in smaller packs and an increase in lone and dispersing wolves, which are more prone to kill livestock as they are less capable of taking down wild prey, especially if they lack experience and group work passed down by their elders. Hunted wolf populations also face higher stress hormone and reproductive hormone levels, which can be detrimental to long-term health and may exacerbate social chaos and conflicts with livestock. It is of great importance to recognize that not all wolves or coyotes kill livestock. Many of the animals killed for bounty rewards have never encountered domestic stock and likely never would.
The resilient reproductive nature of exploited wild canids does not excuse wide-scale killing of these highly evolved animals. Responsible investments into preventing future depredation events and promoting coexistence include non lethal, preventative measures that last.
Examples of investments that have ongoing effectiveness include:
Erecting barriers: fladry, electric fencing, or turbofladry
Patrolling the landscape: livestock guardian dogs, establishing a human presence using herders or range-riders
Removing attractants: carcass removal programs
Other commonly used and successful husbandry techniques include:
Confining or concentrating flocks during periods of vulnerability
Synchronizing birthing to reduce the period of maximum vulnerability
Pasturing young animals in areas with little cover and in close proximity to humans
If a producer can remain “unattractive" to natural predators by promptly managing for dead and sick livestock, as well as maintaining a strong human presence, livestock depredation rates should decrease in most areas. Husbandry practices where predators share the landscape with domestic stock can have a major influence on whether or not wolves will be attracted to an area, learn more through our Ranchers Guide to Coexistence. Local sustainability is not just about taking care of the people in our community; it also requires stewardship of the plants, animals, land and water around us.
Alberta Bounty Project
Preventing Livestock Losses and Maintaining Ecological Integrity
Our findings from the research indicate that there is no justifiable nor evidence-based reason to continue offering incentives to kill these natural predators, and that predator bounties in this region should be ended immediately.
Our research in a region of eastern Alberta that offers wolf and coyote bounty payouts has indicated that the impact of wild canids on cattle in the area is in fact minimal and well within an acceptable loss to natural elements.
A small amount of consumption does occur where these animals overlap in range, however, some of this may be accounted for because of scavenging opportunities when cattle death occurs from another cause and the carcass is left in the area.
In speaking with local residents in the study area that included a grazing lease manager, municipal fieldmen and livestock producers, there was very little concern about livestock depredation events in the area, nor did we identify anyone who was in support of the municipal tax-funded bounty programs underway, despite hearing about a few individuals who claim many dead canids for profit.
Many organizations and individuals across Canada have expressed the belief that more education and outreach needs to be provided to Canadian ranching communities about non-lethal methods regarding prevention of wolf-coyote-livestock conflicts; however this information is not being adequately provided by livestock producer associations nor government agencies. This project offers a unique approach to livestock-predator conflicts because it is solution oriented and provides “boots on the ground” education about coexistence through one on one dialogue, public workshops and presentations, and evidence-based decision making for future best management practices. It is also the first attempt in Canada to work towards establishing Predator Friendly ranching certification.
We will continue to work with ranchers to help them transition to responsible, non-lethal, preventative methods of livestock production.
As more foundations and public become aware of our work over time we anticipate more financial support that will be used to continue to expand this program across the country. By taking proactive measures within small communities, this project aims to act as a pilot to build upon across Canada.
Project partners involved in this initiative included: Wildlife Biologist Dr. Gilbert Proulx, who is the Director of Science at Alpha Wildlife Research & Management Ltd, Certified predator-friendly rancher Louise Liebenberg, co-owner of Grazerie Farms, and Coyote Watch Canada, a Federal, Not-For-Profit, community-based wildlife organization, which advocates positive wildlife experiences through education, research, mediation, intervention, and conflict resolution.
Proulx, G. and D. Rodtka, D. (2015). Predator Bounties in Western Canada Cause Animal Suffering and Compromise Wildlife Conservation Efforts. Animals 5, 1034-1046.
Wielgus R.Bb and K.A. Peebles. (2014) Effects of Wolf Mortality on Livestock Depredations. PLoSONE 9(12).
Bryan, H.M., J.E.G. Smits, L. Koren, P.C. Paquet, K.E. Wynne-Edwards, M. Musiani. (2014). Heavily hunted wolves have higher stress and reproductive hormones than wolves with lower hunting pressure. Functional Ecology.
Rutledge, L.Y., B. R. Patterson , K.J. Mills , K.M. Loveless, D.L. Murray , B.N. White (2009). Protection from harvesting restores the natural social structure of eastern wolf packs. Biological Conservation 143 (2010): 332–339.
Wallach, A.D., E.G. Ritchie, . Read, A.J. O’Neill. (2009). More than Mere Numbers: The Impact of Lethal Control on the Social Stability of a Top-Order Predator. PLoS ONE 4(9).