To comment directly on EBR Registry Number 012-6073 go to the Environmental Registry, create an account and submit your comments online by January 18, 2016
On December 17, 2015, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) posted a nasty surprise on the Environmental Registry: a proposal to weaken wolf and coyote protection in northern Ontario (EBR Registry Number 012-6073). The holiday timing ensured that as little attention as possible would be given to the issue before the January 18 deadline.
The Ministry is proposing to remove the game seal requirement for wolves and coyotes in northern Ontario. This means that anyone with a small game licence would be legally permitted to kill up to two wolves and an unlimited number of coyotes per year. The excuse? Moose populations are in decline. The reality? MNRF’s proposal to increase hunting of wolves and coyotes is unlikely to benefit moose, and may have other unintended negative consequences.
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 (Game seals cost about $11.00 each for Ontario residents). It also gets rid of mandatory reporting requirements regarding wolf and coyote sightings and hunting effort – information which helps inform management strategies for moose and predators alike.
Is this under-funded ministry needlessly shooting itself in the foot?
Indeed, MNRF’s own report, “Factors that affect moose survival,” suggests that the proposal is unlikely to have the intended impact:
“The number of moose killed per wolf pack will not significantly decrease as the pack size is reduced, so removing just a few wolves from each pack will not decrease overall predation on moose. … Only in limited circumstances may small reductions in pack size result in minor reductions in predation that benefit moose populations in localized areas.”
In the event that large numbers of predators are killed, however, there could well be unintended repercussions. Many scientists have underlined the importance of apex predators such as wolves and their “disproportionately significant” role in the survival of native species and ecosystems. The loss of these so-called “strongly interactive animals,” even locally, can “precipitate ecological chain reactions” (M.E. Soule et al, 2005).
For example, regarding wolf removal in Alberta intended to benefit caribou, S.K. Wasser et al. (2011) warn that a rapid expansion of deer populations is likely, with an increased risk of disease transmission, highly variable predator-prey oscillations and marked alterations in vegetation. They recommend that management “prioritize and exhaust feasible actions to control human use on this landscape before triggering more extreme actions, such as predator removal.”
A similarly cautious approach is surely advisable in Ontario as well. Weakening protections for wolves and coyotes in northern Ontario is a lose-lose proposition: if only a few predators are killed, it won’t do much for t moose; if a substantial number are killed it could well trigger a cascade of problems for moose and other species.
Please join Ontario Nature in urging the MNRF to:
1) maintain existing hunting activity reporting and game seal requirements across Ontario; and
2) determine better ways to deal with the moose decline in northern Ontario.
Re. EBR Registry Number 012-6073