Many of us may consider ‘development’ to be a human problem consisting of economic issues and focusing on economic growth. But what about the environment? If academics and policymakers continue to frame ‘development’ as human-centric, we risk severe consequences. Let’s consider the current wolf cull in Western Canada, specifically in British Columbia and Alberta. It is completely legal, encouraged and funded by the provincial governments to slaughter wolves in Western Canada through methods such as poisoning and shooting these animals from helicopters. The reasoning behind this cull is that the wolf populations are apparently causing a decline in caribou populations in these areas. Research tells us that this reasoning is inaccurate and highlights the issues that arise with ignoring the environmental dimensions of ‘development’.
The research that both provincial governments used to support this ideal is unscientific and outdated. Instead, more recent research has found that this wolf cull will not restore the caribou populations. Interestingly enough, these studies have also found that caribou populations have not been declining due to the predation of wolves but that the decline of caribou is a result of human activity. An academic study completed by a team of researchers from Alberta and Montana found that the wolf cull is not an adequate strategy, as it will not result in restored caribou populations. Human-centric development and a heavy focus on economic growth may be the cause of this decline, yet the provincial governments in British Columbia and Alberta would rather use wolves as a scapegoat than deal with the real environmental issues at hand caused by focusing on a human-centric ‘development.’
In an interview with Dr. Darimont, the Hakai-Raincoast professor in Geography at the University of Victoria, the real reason for the decline of caribou populations was uncovered: the oil, gas, and logging developments that have been on the rise in recent years. Humans are continuing to encroach on the natural habitat of the caribou and incorrectly blaming it on the wolves. The fact that the provincial governments have chosen to ignore the recent research that supports ending the wolf cull points to their insufficient ideals of ‘development.’ Obviously, they are more concerned with the potential for economic growth whilst ignoring any environmental considerations.
So, what does this really mean for Canada? If we look at what happened with the government-supported wolf cull that occurred at Yellowstone National Park in the United States, we can see many likely negative outcomes if the wolf cull does not come to a halt.
Yellowstoneparticipated in a wolf cull that wiped out the wolf population in the 90’s. This wolf cull took place in order to protect the populations of elk… sound familiar? After this wolf cull, the park’s ecology suffered a great deal. Without the wolves to act as predators for elk, the elk populations went through the roof and overgrazed. This led to the deterioration and disappearance of many plants, including the tall willow ticket, which used to be an important habitat feature in the park. Scientists also found that the reduction of elk populations was due to industrialization of the habitats by humans. By 2001, Yellowstone’s flora and fauna were noticeably diminished. As a result, the local tourism economy took a severe dive. In 1995, Yellowstone was gifted wolves from Canada. Within 8 years, the park started to look bountiful and beautiful again. It took the tourism economy to decline for Yellow Stone National Park to realize there was an issue at hand that needed to be solved.
Do we really need to wait until the local economies suffer economic consequences to care about the environment? The Wildlife Defence League has found that British Columbia and Alberta’s current biodiversity is already starting to suffer without the wolves; we are already on the brink of seeing the same disparities as Yellowstone National Park.
Wolves are cited by many environmental scientists as being crucial for local ecosystem structure and biodiversity. Despite all of the current research, the British Columbia government has allocated $2.2 million to the wolf cull and Alberta is not far behind. There have been countless efforts from organizations such as the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Wildlife Defence League, which include protests, interviews, and petitions. Still, the provincial governments are refusing to listen.
We need to seriously consider reframing our understandings of ‘development.’ Those who critique the environmental dimensions of ‘development’ are also overlooking the harm for humans that this human-centric development can bring, such as the decline of the tourism industries and deterioration of ecosystems. Perhaps if we can all be aware of the consequences associated with human-centric ‘development’, we can continue to lobby the provincial governments to abandon their ideologies that only care about the economy and economic growth by human industrialization.
To learn more about the wolf cull in Canada, visit Raincoast.org
Clairissa Pietron is a Political Science MA student at the University of Guelph. She conducts research on the political issues of Development, Environmental Justice, and Gender-based Politics.