Most of the 30 people who came to hear Sadie Parr speak in Vernon recently left with a new understanding about wolves.
Far from being freeloaders on the top of the food chain, wolves benefit the ecosystems around them, from the survival of forest and river bank vegetation to the health of the caribou, deer and other animals on which they prey.
“Yellowstone Park is a prime example of how wolves benefit an ecosystem. In the 1920’s when the park got rid of wolves, elk, moose, caribou and other ungulates thrived and behaved very differently than when the wolves were around,” said Parr, former director of the Canadian Wolf Coalition.
“Now, they ate everything in sight, including the vegetation along stream banks, causing severe disruption to the ecosystem. The fish and the beavers disappeared, along with numerous birds and other species. The animals left no longer thrived but got weaker and susceptible to disease. Seventy years later, the park reintroduced wolves. Browsing animals started behaving differently, allowing the vegetation to grow tall enough to reproduce. Now the fish and beavers have returned along with the plants needed to support biodiversity.”
The streams have benefitted too.
Parr says the beavers keep the rivers from drying up while, at the same time, healthy vegetation keeps the rivers from flooding, and all of this biological interaction helps maintain rich soil that better sequesters carbon by getting it out of the atmosphere and back into the ground.
In other words, she says, by helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem, wolves are connected to climate change. Without them, landscapes would be more vulnerable to the effects of big weather events that could be experienced as the planet warms.
Parr stressed that there are only a few places left in Canada with enough genetic diversity to allow wolves to survive if left alone.
“If wolves can’t be allowed to live in B.C., where will they live?”
She also dispelled the view that wolves kill a lot of cattle, saying that transport, disease and other occurrences are responsible for most of the deaths and the best way to protect farm animals is to shepherd them as used to be done by farmers.
She says that wolves fear people and will not attack when a human is present.
“Habitat destruction is to blame along with government’s misled management plan for the low numbers of the caribou. These animals need large tracks of old-growth forests, not little islands here and there.”
Parr says the proposed provincial management plan includes sterilization, which can lead to sickness and death, trapping, which can result in weeks of suffering, and trophy hunting.
Since wolves live in family groups, Parr believes killing a large member can leave the pack without the ability to hunt successfully or even survive.
She urged everyone to write the provincial government to ask for an extension to the deadline for commenting and to let them know that the wolf management plan it proposes is not what people want for the wolves, forests, and for B.C.
Instead what B.C. needs, Parr says, is habitat corridors, where large tracks of forests are connected so a healthy predator-prey system can survive.