Wolves leave no one indifferent and never fail to ignite human passions. Once marginally protected, now overhunted-such is the sad reality of wolves. Wolves everywhere pay a high price for living near humans. As the government resolutely encourages the hunting and trapping of wolves, more and more people are defending their cause. Wolves thus spur many contradictory actions. While some still see them for their skin, others fight for their survival and protection.
In Quebec, little land remains where wolves are safe from trapping. Indeed, wolf trapping is allowed on 98% of the province, or nearly 1,500,000 km2. South of the 52nd parallel, the government owns a network of 20 provincial parks where trapping is prohibited. These parks cover 5,800 km2. In this network, wolves are likely to live in only seven parks with a total area of approximately 3,400 km2. Quebec also includes three federal parks where trapping is prohibited. Their combined area is 874 km2, and only Mauricie Park, with a total of 536 km2, is likely to be inhabited by wolves.
A wolf pack generally occupies a territory of 300 to 750 km2, according to the availability and abundance of prey. The lack of areas protected from trapping is a direct threat to the future of wolves.
RAPPING AND HUNTING IN QUEBEC
Because of their dual status as furbearing and game animals, wolves in Quebec can be trapped and hunted without restriction during sixteen to twenty consecutive weeks each year. There is no wolf-bagging limit for the four months wolves can be trapped (October to March) and the five months they can be hunted (October to April). Snares, leghold traps, rifles, shotguns, black powder firearms, bows, and crossbows are legal, government-authorized methods for killing wolves.
Increased interest in wolf trapping is a result not only of the high price of wolf pelts on the market but also specific initiatives to promote wolf harvests. In 1989, Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche (MLCP) distributed a video on professional wolf trapping techniques. Still available, it is intended for trappers wishing to significantly increase “their wolf-bagging.” Since 1993, in cooperation with Fédération des trappeurs gestionnaires du Québec (FTGQ), the government has offered a highly specialized course entitled “Trapping and Management of Canids.”
Since its establishment, this course has proven effective and continues to contribute to the success of trapping and the decline of the species, according to observations in the field. Trapping is still killing off wolves. It was and still is the main cause of wolf mortality. Since 1990, trapping has caused the death of over 5,900 wolves in Quebec. Current regulations are flexible and permissive. Strangely, the government considers wolves a protected species, since they are subject to a limited trapping and hunting season by law.
In Quebec, wolves are caught using leghold traps and snares. The latter method remains the most popular way to kill wolves. According to a poll conducted by Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Faune (MEF), over 80% of the wolves bagged in 1993-1994 were caught by snares. This efficient method has rapidly turned wolves into easy prey.
Snaring is usually combined with the enclosure technique aimed at luring a pack to a single site even before trapping season begins. This technique can eliminate the dominant pair in just hours and decimate the entire pack. Since only the dominant pair reproduces, the pack’s reproductive success is compromised, with disastrous effects on its social structure. Trappers are supposed to visit their traplines daily but rarely do, as they are not legally required to do so. Wolves that are caught may thus die of thirst, hunger, or cold. In some areas of Quebec where wolves were once common, they are now rare, particularly due to high mortality resulting from the repeated use of enclosures.
PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS AND GROUPE-FAUNE NATIONAL
Established by the Government of Quebec in 1996, Groupe-Faune National (G-FN) is tasked with recommending wildlife management directions to the minister responsible for wildlife. This focus group also suggests changes to the various regulations governing trapping, hunting, and fishing.
G-FN includes the following organizations: Fédération des trappeurs gestionnaires du Québec, Fédération québécoise de la faune, Fédération québécoise du saumon atlantique, Fédération québécoise des gestionnaires de ZECs, Fédération des pourvoyeurs du Québec, Fondation de la faune du Québec, and Société des établissements de plein air du Québec. These organizations defend their members’ private and commercial interests and have real clout with Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec (FAPAQ) and its minister. Unfortunately, consultations on “wildlife interests” in Quebec are held virtually in private between FAPAQ and G-FN. Without transparency and appropriate efforts by the government, this “democratic” process is sure to remain a simple act devoid of meaning, fairness, and justice.
ACCIDENTAL CAPTURES OF PROTECTED SPECIES
A 1996 report by Ministère de l’Environnement on the status of bald eagles in Quebec indicates that “between 1990 and 1994, nine bald eagles were captured by trappers. [.] This may have a significant impact on eagle populations, given their small numbers. Certain trapping methods, including enclosures with snares, have led to accidental captures. [.] While poorly documented, accidental captures during trapping are believed to be a more serious cause of mortality than previously imagined.”
According to statistics from Union québécoise de réhabilitation des oiseaux de proie (UQROP), 33% of the bald eagles admitted to its Ste-Hyacinthe clinic between 1987 and 2000 had been caught in snares and leghold traps.
The magazine Québec Oiseaux states in its fall 1999 issue that “a golden eagle banded on October 30, 1990, in Port Stanley, Ontario was found dead in a wolf trap in Mont Laurier on December 10 [of the same year].” And “a bald eagle was found dead in a trap in the same region on December 15, 1996. The bird had been banded in the nest on June 30, 1976, in Paradise, Michigan.”
Quebec’s wolves now face an additional threat, since the official objective of the 1999 trapping reform is to maximize spinoffs from this commercial activity. Consequently, wolves can be harvested along with eighteen other species that the government still considers as renewable economic resources.
Trapping is unquestionably the main cause of wolf mortality in Quebec. It is thus crucial and urgent that wolves be granted territory that is sufficiently protected from this outdated and backward activity. Without this basic protection, wolves will remain exposed to overexploitation and inevitable extinction.
SALES OF WILD ANIMAL PELTS IN QUEBEC, 2002-2003