The big bad wolf is back. Maybe he never went away, but for a while there he seemed to have achieved a form of rehabilitation. There were programs to reintroduce him to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, and ensuring that pack numbers in the wild were maintained.
So it was something of a shock for me to read about the government of Alberta's repeated culls of the wolf population. Wolves and ranchers out west have a long history of an adversarial relationship, with wolves being blamed for every single loss of livestock to predators.
Well, of course there is truth to that complaint, but what do you expect is going to happen when you destroy the habitat of a major predator's prey, and offer it a smorgasbord that doesn't have the brains to run away? If you were a wolf, what would you do? Go hungry or eat those stupid fluffy things that just bleat and don't even fight back? That's a real no-brainer as far I'm concerned.
It was proven that culling the pack in the neighbourhood where the attacks take place doesn't reduce the amount of livestock that fall victim to wild attacks anyway. First of all, there are more than just wolves who are predators in this world, and secondly, you get rid of one pack, another will move in to take its place.
Anyway, that's not even their excuse this time for killing off wolves. Nope, this time they're trying to protect one herd of caribou that we've almost driven to extinction by our behaviour. The Alberta government is not satisfied with being able to boast a four billion dollar surplus, and continues trying to make more money through exploiting as much of the environment as they can to pump more natural gas.
As they push further out into the hinterlands and the tundra, they intrude more and more on the habitat of animals like the migratory herds of caribou. This was the main objection that environmental groups were raising to Bush's plan for drilling in Alaska, that it would disrupt the caribou herds.
In a balanced ecosystem wolves play an important part in population control among prey animals. When you're dealing with an animal as large as a caribou or an elk, most wolf packs are only going to take down the sick or the lame or the elderly, who wouldn't survive anyway. A healthy adult caribou is not an easy take-down even for a pack; somebody is going to end up with their head caved in by a hoof or gored on an antler.
The herd in question has had its number reduced by loss of its habitat. Roads built into their territory have resulted in fatalities. The same birth defects that plague domestic stock where ranches are too close to drill sites prevent the herds from repopulating at a normal rate, and just the presence of humans in an area cuts into a herd's potential grazing territory.