Ontario backtracks on wolf plan

After a public backlash, Ontario has withdrawn from what activists called its “war on predators.”

On April 5, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry quietly posted a notice on its website announcing that it is officially backing off a plan to relax hunting protections for wolves and coyotes.

Back in December, the ministry offered game hunters a Christmas gift of sorts: plans to remove the game seal requirement for wolves and coyotes so that hunters with a small game license would be able to kill two wolves and as many coyotes as they could shoot in a year in northern and parts of central Ontario. There is no limit on the number of small game licenses the province can issue. The stated intention was to protect troubled moose populations.

Hunters celebrated. Environmental and animal welfare orgs howled.

The David Suzuki Foundation warned that the plan “is not supported by science [and] although often scapegoated, predators are rarely the root cause for dropping prey populations. Predators and prey like coyotes, wolves, moose and deer have been part of an intricate food web for thousands of years. If something is out of whack with a prey population, it can likely be traced to humans or disease and not to a sudden decision by coyotes and wolves to supersize their meals.”

Earthroots cautioned that the proposal not only failed to address declines in moose populations, but would endanger at-risk Eastern wolf packs living in central Ontario.

By the time the MNR’s comment period closed January 18, the ministry had received more than 12,000 comments, many upset with the proposed changes. Another 200,000 people signed petitions slamming the plan.

Says MNR media relations officer, Jolanta Kowalski, “After extensive public, stakeholder and Aboriginal engagement and considering all comments received, the ministry has decided not to make changes to wolf and coyote hunting regulations.”

The ministry now says it will spend more time studying other potential causes of moose population declines. Kowalksi admits, “There are numerous factors that may be impacting Ontario’s moose population including harvest, parasites, changing climate, habitat quality and predation. We will continue to explore those factors.” 

A coalition of animal protection and conservation groups point out that “even the province’s own data showed that the indiscriminate killing of predators is not an effective wildlife management practice.” 

Gabriel Wildgen, campaign manager for Humane Society International Canada, says “It would be simply inexcusable to allow the indiscriminate killing of some of our most majestic wild animals.” 

While northern coyotes won’t be subject to year-round open hunting seasons, their southern Ontario cousins still are. 

Coyote Watch Canada’s director Lesley Sampson says the eastern coyote “is currently the most persecuted canid, with little regulatory protection in most of Ontario.” She says that game seal limits and mandatory reporting on hunting activities of this  species should become a province-wide objective, as they have been for wolves.

“We hope to have turned the page on this issue,” says Rachel Plotkin, Ontario Science Projects Manager at the David Suzuki Foundation. “For centuries wolves and coyotes have been treated as problem animals when really they are linchpins in healthy, functioning ecosystems.”

 ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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