Changing the way we look at wolves.
Earthroots’ Wolves Ontario! project was launched in August 2000 and after 5 years of steadfast intensive campaigning, unhindered wolf hunting finally came to an end. Prior to these developments in 2005, Ontario had been recognized as one of the top 3 worst jurisdictions in the world for wolf protection.
The Myth of the Big Bad Wolf
No other species in the world has been so hated and misunderstood as the wolf. Many of us have been conditioned since childhood to envisage wolves as vicious and merciless killers. Some of our most popular children's stories like Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and Peter and the Wolf all portray the wolf as a ruthless villain. Folklore and myths have greatly influenced public perception and subsequently, wolf-control legislation. In Ontario for example, The Act to Encourage The Destruction of Wolves and Bears existed circa 1793 and just over a decade ago, some municipalities were still rewarding hunters who helped exterminate wolves by paying them a bounty.
Wolves have been held responsible for declining deer, moose and caribou populations despite the fact that wolves and their prey have successfully co-existed for thousands of years before humans upset the natural balance. Many people still believe that wolves should be killed to protect people’s safety even though there has only been one documented case of healthy wild wolves killing a human in North America (and the evidence is showing that these wolves were likely habituated to garbage and had lost their fear of humans).
Farley Mowat, one of Canada’s most famous storytellers wrote in his book, Never Cry Wolf – “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.” No other species has done more to destroy nature than Homo sapiens. The message in Mowat’s book is true – the wolf makes a very convenient scapegoat for the ecological problems we have caused.
The deeply engrained forms of social stigma and fear surrounding the wolf has led to its extirpation in the majority of its range. Wolves used to be the most widely distributed land mammal across the northern hemisphere but have been hunted, trapped and poisoned to extinction in 10 European countries and have been wiped out of 95% of their former range in the lower 48 American states. Industrial-scale logging, mining and development have destroyed much of the wolf’s former habitat.
However, efforts to dispel the myth of the “Big Bad Wolf” and educate people about the important role wolves play in the ecosystem is now having a visible impact. In fact, many people now revere the wolf as a majestic symbol of unspoiled wilderness; wolf paraphernalia fill the display shelves of many souvenir shops. Unfortunately jurisdictions across the country are slow to revise their archaic wildlife policies to keep up to date with this dramatic shift in public opinion. The current situation in Ontario could be the most promising.
The government now promotes the annual wolf howls in Algonquin Park, which draw up to 2,000 people at each event. Efforts like this are critical not only for the purpose of promoting the importance of this iconic species, but it also points to how much financial and cultural potential the eco-tourism industry has. This is especially important in a place like Algonquin Park, where logging operations significantly threaten the park's biodiversity and pose detrimental impacts on wildlife populations.
New Legislation to Protect Wolves in Ontario
In 2004, the Minister of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, announced his decision to protect the unique wolf population in Algonquin Provincial Park. The Minister implemented a permanent ban on hunting and trapping wolves and coyotes (since it can be difficult to distinguish between the two) in the townships surrounding the park. This decision came after more than a decade of research concluded that the park's wolf population was declining, mainly due to high levels of hunting and trapping outside of Algonquin’s borders.
Then in 2005, new hunting and trapping regulations to restrict wolf killing across the province (as part of a larger strategy for wolf conservation in Ontario) were implemented. Wolves and coyotes cannot be hunted or trapped between April 1st and September 14th in northern and central Ontario. The season closure will help protect wolves during pup-rearing however most wolves are hunted or trapped during the winter months when their coat is prime.
Other restrictions include mandatory reporting and a limit to the number of wolves that a hunter can kill to two per year. The purchase of a “wolf game seal”, in addition to a small game hunting licence, is now required. Non-resident hunters have to pay $250 for each seal. This will hopefully lead to an end of sport hunting wolves; an activity that Americans are predominantly participating in according to our research. Earthroots found almost 50 tourist outfitters in Ontario advertising guided wolf hunts online (some of which are located just outside the borders of the largest parks and protected areas in the province). All of the outfitters advertise their prices in U.S. dollars and many have summer residences in the U.S. Since 88% of Ontarians strongly oppose the hunting of wolves for sport, Earthroots is asking the government to promote wolf ecotourism as an alternative way of generating revenue in northern Ontario communities.
Wolves Still Face Many Threats in Ontario
Despite recent conservation initiatives, there are still many threats to wolves that have not been addressed. There is no limit for trappers and wolf hunting and trapping remain unregulated and unrestricted in southeastern Ontario along the Frontenac Axis (a region which could provide prime habitat for the Eastern wolf, a Species at Risk). A province-wide recovery plan for the Eastern wolf has yet to be created.
The Ministry of Natural Resources is currently assessing wolf populations using winter track-based surveys to provide landscape wolf densities and refine the provincial estimate. The overall estimate of 8,800 wolves may be close to the actual population in Ontario, although the data has not been fully completed and analyzed.
Wolves are only adequately protected on 3% of their range in the province while 97% remains open to hunting and trapping. There are only a few parks in Ontario that are off limits to hunters and trappers and large enough to sustain a viable wolf population. There is clearly an imbalance between the percentage of the landbase where wolves are managed as game and the few protected areas, off-limits to traps and bullets, where wolves can just be wolves. Keeping critical wolf habitat areas free of exploitation is necessary if we want true wilderness in Ontario.
A Wolf Conservation Strategy for Ontario
A wolf conservation plan must recognize the important ecological role wolves play as a keystone species, integral to biodiversity preservation and natural ecosystem functions. Predators fulfill an indispensable role in the ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check and ensuring that the fittest survive. By chasing herds of caribou and other ungulates, wolves protect diverse landscapes from being overgrazed. As a “top of the food chain” predator, wolves have a ripple effect on the whole ecosystem. When a wolf takes down its prey, ravens, eagles, wolverines and bears are just some of the many animals that share in the feast. Protecting wolves helps ensure that the ranges and ecological requirements of many other species are protected as well.
Although we have achieved some major victories, your help is still needed - please lend your voice to wolves by sending a personal letter! Tell the Minister of Natural Resources that further measures must be taken to truly protect wolves in Ontario. Let him know that you want to see limits on wolf trapping, a ban on hunting and trapping wolves in all protected areas, the implementation of an Eastern wolf recovery plan, a ban on wolf snaring, and new conservation reserves to fully protect wolves and their habitat.
Honourable Donna Cansfield
Minister of Natural Resources
Room 6630, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley St. West
Toronto, ON M7A 1W3
Phone: 416- 314-2301
The final Strategy for Wolf Conservation in Ontario is available on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) Registry. To view the strategy visit: http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/ and enter EBR Registry Number PB04E6020
Visit the Ministry of Natural Resources website for more information about wolves in the province:
The Wolves Ontario! project has the following goals:
- Raise public awareness of the current situation of Ontario wolf populations.
- Actively engage the public in the campaign to make the Ontario government change current policies governing wolves in the province.
- Through public advocacy, achieve meaningful legislative protection for wolves and wolf habitat.