In 2003, the federal committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada officially added the Algonquin Park Eastern Wolf to the endangered species list.
It is hard to believe that the Eastern Wolf, a species protected by one of the world’s largest protected habitats, would find its way on to the list.
Algonquin Park is one of the largest protected habitats in the world that is believed to extend across central Ontario and southern Quebec.
Despite the large size of the park, its population of about 175 wolves is in decline due mainly to hunting activities outside park boundaries.
This was the conclusion of a multi-board workshop held in 2001.
The workshop was led by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, drawing on the knowledge and experience of over 80 participants including hunters, trappers, outfitters, park staff, conservation organizations, the Ministry of Natural Resources, wolf experts from across North America.
“There can be no more doubt about what we have to do,” states Deborah Freeman, Algonquin Park Watch Coordinator for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).
“It’s time to end the killing of wolves around Algonquin Park.”
In Algonquin Park, the Algonquin Eastern Wolf population has declined from over 300 in the 90’s to an estimated 160 wolves today.
Approximately 66 per cent of those deaths are human induced, by hunting and trapping. The population is declining by five per cent or more annually and headed for certain extinction if a total ban on hunting and trapping is not imposed around the 37 townships surrounding the park.
Human trapping and shooting of the wolves outside the park have been associated with a decline in the population inside the park, weakening the population structure and increasing its susceptibility to increased mating with coyotes.
Hunting has always been a popular activity since the park was established in 1893.
Then, the park resembled more of a hunting ground than a place for preserving nature because, at the beginning, park administrators were concerned that if deer populations would increase, so would the wolf population.
A decision was made to exterminate the wolves, despite the arguments of the naturalists who stated that a percentage of predatory animals were needed to keep the other species in a healthy condition.
As a consequence, wolf populations in the park declined.
Scientists have observed that the Algonquin Wolf is smaller in size than those wolves found further north of Ontario. Because of their size, Algonquin Wolves prefer to stick to smaller prey, such as deer that live outside the park.
Extensive studies over many years have all come down to the same result concerning the total removal of predators: “study has shown that predator loss leads to biodiversity loss.
“Although there has been a recent improvement with respect to hunting regulations, there still has to be a significant change because there is a lot of uncertainty concerning how long the regulations will be in place and what predator is actually protected.”
In 2002, the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources legislated a 30-month ban on hunting.
The Ontario government protection plans for the wolves of Algonquin Park had environmentalists asking why the plan stops short of a permanent year-round ban on wolf killing around the park.
While pleased with the introduction of a no-kill zone in 37 townships surrounding the park, CPAWS is concerned that the year-round closed season is proposed to expire after 30 months, in a built-in “sunset clause.”
“We strongly support the government’s action to close the hunting and trapping of wolves around Algonquin Park, with one concern,” says Jean Langlois of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“Because this is the keystone measure in this conservation plan, it must not have a politically-motivated expiry date,” he states.
“Clearly, any review of the hunting regulations should be based on science, but this is not what has been proposed today,” Langlois says, adding that CPAWS is urging the Minister of Natural Resources to rewrite the regulation so that the closure is permanent.
“It will take a lot more than two and a half years for this wolf population to recover from over a century of persecution.”
The public should be taught about the facts of wolves through brochures, television programs, and courses.
Children at an early age should learn that the “big bad wolf” only exists in fairy tales. However, education on exercising caution and paying respect when spotting a wolf is also very important for safety reasons.
One idea is to “fix” the habitat to favour wolves. For instance, if space for trees were increased in the park, more deer would stay inside the boundaries. The Eastern Wolf would be less inclined to hunt outside the boundaries where there is no protection from hunting and trapping.
But a return to the vibrant and thriving Eastern Wolf population of 1893 seems less likely as time passes on without a preservation plan.