General News · 26th March 2011
FOCI Workshop Summary
Listening & Dialogue; Wildlife-Human Interactions
March 4 & 5, 2011
This past weekend, many of us enjoyed the stories, presentations and connections made at FOCI's wolf workshop. Speakers from around the coast, who represent the extended support community for the FOCI Community Wolf Project, generously shared their knowledge and experience with the Cortes community as we gathered in the Big Hall at the Klahoose New Relationships Building. The purpose of the workshop was to introduce Islanders to this extended support community of individuals and encourage educated and responsible community dialogue around our interactions with large carnivores: bear, wolf and cougar.
This document is intended to summarize the event with a fairly high degree of resolution. Having been two evenings and a full day long, the summary has extended through many pages. I have broken up this exposition into sections corresponding to the different speakers as they were scheduled.
FOCI's succinct,1-page wolf primer, Learning to Live with Wolves, which advises Islanders on how to reduce conflict with wolves, is attached at the end of this summary, posted throughout the community and available as a handout from the FOCI office.
The workshop began Friday evening with all visitors being welcomed to Klahoose territory by Jessie Louie, Klahoose First Nation. We were fortunate to be the first to celebrate as a group in the Big Hall. A potluck dinner furnished delicious delights after which Grace Hays, Chickasaw First Nation, graced us with traditional stories of her unique and magical relationship with wolves throughout her life. We all went home well fed and excited to get into the meat of the issue the following morning at 9.30 am.
Crystal McMillan/ Executive Director Bear Smart BC
Human-Wildlife Conflict; the human dimensions landscape
Crystal kicked off the speaker series. She has experience working with communities across the province to prevent conflicts with bears as part of the BC Bear Smart program.
Crystal explained that a good human/carnivore policy requires a good understanding of the bio-physical landscape, varying tolerances of risk within a community, and goverance issues. She stressed that every member of a community must be responsible for their contribution to the wolf/human relationship; "Every resident in the community is a wildlife manager." Teaching wolves that humans do NOT provide easy sources of food is everyone’s job.
Good tracking data, such as that collected by Cortes residents participating in the Cortes Community Wolf Project over the last 2 years, is helpful in making a “management strategy”. Local large carnivore committees are also useful, as solutions that come from the community are more likely to be supported by the community. Proactive management addresses how we want to live with wolves and cougars. Crystal encouraged Cortes to include a definition for wildlife in our OCP.
Danielle Thompson/ Cougar researcher with the National Park Service
Cougars, Wolves & Bears: exploring the underlying factors of human-carnivore interactions
Danielle is a researcher who has studied cougar/human interactions extensively and is now employed by Pacific Rim National Park as a public safety manager, which includes the monitoring of human-wildlife encounters.
Danielle explained that the combination of large-scale land conversion, the increasing pace of resource extraction and an exploding human population are resulting in the destruction and fracturing of large carnivore habitat. This is forcing these creatures to find subsistence more and more in the edges of an encroaching human landscape.
Danielle went on to point out that wildlife/human conflicts are generally about livestock/crop consumption and the threat of an attack. The risk of an attack on a human is very low, she said, and yet this risk not tolerated. Animals are often killed to alleviate this concern.
The methods of killing creatures believed to be a threat include poisoning, which Danielle says often leads to large losses of non-target animals. Culling large carnivores also results in large population imbalances in prey species, followed by serious habitat change and overall declines in biodiversity. Non-lethal methods of control such as relocation often requires a large amount of government protection and often leads to the deaths of the animals that are moved, due to territorial conflicts, the breaking up of packs, loss of older leaders, etc.
Danielle pointed out a few contributing factors to human-carnivore conflicts:
• Human use of wildlife corridors.
• Loss of fear, habituation to human contact; sometimes to the point of animals having their young in human town sites.
• Direct feeding and access to non-natural attractants – a wolf that gets used to being fed will continue to look to people to be fed. It was agreed amongst the researchers present that scavenging in human areas is a hard habit to break.
Danielle did extensive research with the cougars of Pacific Rim National park. Amongst other fascinating findings, she found that young males who are trying to find a space to hunt are often the major source of human conflict. She explained that once a large carnivore is removed from a particular area, it simply creates an opportunity for another to move in. If the causes of conflict are not removed, the cycle of conflict is perpetuated.
This last point, that of solving the cause of a problem, not just the symptoms received a lot of attention at this event. All speakers impressed upon us the importance of keeping food attractants well secured from wild animals, both in terms of garbage and our agricultural endeavours. We must also be letting wolves know when they are in our yards that we are not okay with that. Feeding deer, raccoons etc. in our yards will bring wolves around and they will make the association of easy prey with human environs.
Several speakers pointed out that a dog walking off leash is seen as a trespasser in wolf territory and it is to be expected that trespassers will be dealt with harshly. Therefore, when walking in wolf territory (anywhere outside your little yard), it is important to leash our dogs. Even if we are accepting of the risks, a wolf attack on a dog trains the wolf that dogs are food and will encourage them to come to our homes for more.
We are constantly communicating with wolves with our every action and land-use choice, whether we know it or not.
Bob Hansen/ Wildlife-Conflict Specialist Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (PRNPR)
A Journey on the Learning Curve: the pursuit of understanding and the striving for co-existence with carnivores on the outer west coast
Bob started his career in Jasper 25 years ago studying mountain caribou and consequently the wolves that hunted them. He moved on to study wolf activity on the west coast in PRNPR. Many minds came together and continue today to observe and respond to the changing relations between humans and other creatures living in PRNPR; "a living system of relationships". For more on that story, google: Clayoquot biosphere trust + wildcoast.
Bob made the important point that to understand what is happening, we need to pay attention and keep track of important interactions with our wolves. As a community, we have been doing an excellent job of this with our sighting records submitted the FOCI office and collated by Sabina Leader Mense.
Bob related the story of wolves on our coast. The wolves were all but wiped out in the 1960's by an island wide bounty. By the 70's wolves had started to come back to the island from central coast populations. During this time, Cortes Island provided a flashpoint for the wolf controversy; cyanide bombs were used to exterminate wolves on Cortes. Apparently the wolves returned to Cortes, even after this extermination attempt. The moral of the story, for Bob, is that wolves are here to stay and it is up to us to prevent and avoid conflict. We must remain vigilant; we need to rise to the challenge of living peacefully with wolves.
Michelle Theberge/ Ecological Consultant
Growing up in Wolf Country
Michelle’s parents, John and Mary Theberge, were both very active in wolf research and conservation (12 years studying the wolves of Algonquin), and she was literally born into wolf research. Her parents were in the midst of field research at the time, and her mom only took off five days for the birth! For four months a year the family would traipse around in the field studying wolves.
We heard about the town surrounding Algonquin Park and their wolf challenges. The wolves were following their prey into the towns in the winter. Many wolves were being killed, which prompted a ban on hunting and trapping in the area.
From Michelle we learned that there are somewhere between 50,000-60,000 wolves in Canada, comprised of two species: the grey wolf, Canis lupus and red wolf Canis lycaon. We learned about the 4 sub-species of the grey wolf and their distribution. We learned about the research methods of live trapping, taking blood samples, and radio collar tracking. Michelle is a strong supporter of our "citizen science" wolf project here on Cortes Island.
Grace Hays/ Chickasaw First Nation
Human-Wolf Interactions: understanding wolf body language
Grace has had a special relationship with wolves her whole life; her grandfather initiated her in wolf medicine at a very young age. If you get a chance to meet her, she can tell you the stories of having a wolf as a friend and caretaker.
Grace knows wolves well, and told us about their lifestyles and body language. Wolves are very much like humans in their family structures, and social structures. She spoke of several common stories from their lives that could easily have happened in our families.
Humans have conflicting stories regarding wolves. Many cultures see wolves as spirit brothers and as sacred teachers. Other cultures believe that wolves are hellish beasts to be battled with and feared. The former is represented in stories such as the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, having been raised by wolves. The latter is represented in stories such as Little Red Riding Hood. These negative stories no doubt have a large part to play in the cultural fear of wolves that we see today. A rabies epidemic is often blamed for the perceptual shift in history from wolf as brother to wolf as monster.
Grace explained that the common social structure of a pack is a female, a male and their offspring. Their social interactions are mostly within their pack until they are old enough to go on a "walk-about" looking for a mate.
Wolves have a morning song which is airy and high, and an evening song that is lower pitched. They start their day with some chatting and a lead singer. In the evening they say good night and goodbye to the day.
Grace shared her knowledge of wolf vocalizations and body language. A lone wolf singing a high sound is usually lost, or wandering, looking for a mate. A low response is territorial, meaning this is our territory and you must leave. A low growl is territorial, the wolves want you to leave their territory. A growl is to be understood as a stern talking-to, distinguishable from growling, barking, hissing and chattering with the jaw open, which is more like yelling. Barking alone is not a yelling. Wolves yawning is a rude gesture, like when you are bored with someone who is talking endlessly. This is almost as rude as when they lick their genitals in a gesture of disdain. Smiling is also a sign of disdain.
Grace once observed a death ceremony where the wolves would rub their face on the dead body and then sing the death song. This lasted for seven hours. She also told us that birthday parties happen when the young ones come out of the den, the older brothers and sisters bringing presents for the young. Grace has also observed wolves dancing.
Grace had several suggestions for successful co-habitation:
• Eliminate Opportunity! 80% of hunting is not successful. An easy meal is very tempting treat. They hunt early in the morning and then rest. In the evening they may hunt again. This can guide our animal husbandry practices; we should leave our livestock locked up until around nine in the morning and put away again before dusk.
• Educate yourself about wolf behaviour. Don’t run away. Grace thinks that wolves are not running away so much anymore because the community has been exceptionally gentle with the wolf and they are being gentle with us.
• Keep an open mind. A fear based mentality is often based on a lack of understanding.
• Just like between wolves themselves and between humans, conflict is often territorial.
• Hunting competition is virtually non-existent – wolves go for the old, the frail, while humans like the biggest prime specimens.
• In Forest Law, animals learn that there is a steep price to pay for stealing food. Unfortunately wolves never get the chance to learn about stealing from us – we kill them all, they come back, and get killed again never living to learn. Wolves can’t see that the sheep in your yard is your food – they never see you eating it.
• Choosing sheep is very brave; everything goes after sheep. Choose your livestock wisely!
• You have the right to establish your own territory. They have theirs, and there are neutral zones.
• Wolves understand red stripes to mean stay away. Grace recommends bringing a big red striped umbrella with you in wolf territory, this makes you look big to the wolf.
• They travel to teach their young, for food diversity, walk-about time, and genetic diversity.
• They need to teach their young how to catch seals, deer, etc. If you run into wolves while they are moving their young they will circle you on two or three sides, asking you to leave, and leaving you with one clear direction to head. This behavior can also occur if you come into an area where they have just made a kill. Don’t run. Just go. If they follow, or escort you, don’t worry about it. Once you have gone far enough away, they will leave you.
Grace will be compiling this basic information for us in a one-page reference sheet.