Tuesday, 27 October 2015

In the media

Some time back, I did an interview with Anna Larrson Berke for a Swedish Article on being Wildlife Friendly.
I did notice that once the article had been published, I had a number of Swedish people sending me Facebook Friends requests!

I finally, got to see the end product and Anna kindly translated it for me, a few typos and a few small errors, but overall an interesting read.

To read the Swedish version please follow this link:

So, here is the English Version:
 by: Anne Larrson Berke

That the Swedish debate about wolves does not primarily revolve around practical problems and solutions, but instead about differences in values and faith in the authorities, is evident when one visits wildlife rich Canada.

WildSmart - Knowledge and involvement
Along the roads of Bow River Valley, between the prairies of Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, signs informs that these are WildSmart Communities. Here residents and local businesses, cooperate with wildlife researchers, hunting-, and nature conservations organisations, in an effort to diminish conflicts between people and wildlife. What is now a growing non-profit movement, began about 10 years ago when the Grizzly bear was severaly threatened. Tourism, road works, the logging industry, cattle ranches and farmlands, put man and the Grizzly on a collision course. The killing or relocation of individual bears further diminished the bear population but did not diminish the conflicts. So instead work began on developing methods of prevention. Those strategies have now been adapted to deal with Cougars, Coyotes, and Wolves.
The prevention has four parts: To lower the risks for both people and animals, to increase the residents knowledge about the nature they live in, to increase the researcher’s knowledge on how people and animals can live side-by-side, and To share the responsibility of Wildlife management on a practical level with the residents. To have the residents included and be able to feel a sense of responsibility for their surroundings, is key for the success of the WildSmart-programme. The people living in these communities help observe, reports sightings and cooperate to keep the neighbourhood clear of possible sources of conflicts. They clear vegetation around trails and gardens to remove hiding places and to give animals a retreat if they do happen to wander in near buildings. They get together to clean off all berries around schools and playgrounds. They follow strict rules regarding waste management and BBQ. Lately much focus has been put on how dogs and cats move around in the areas and if it is possible to change these habits. The residents also help in creating wildlife corridors and areas that are not welcoming to wildlife. One area is made unwelcome with the use of smell, sounds, patrols with people and dogs etc. Other wildlife corridors are made completely off-limit to people.
Bow River Valley is on the border of one of the world’s oldest national parks, Banff, where around 4 million tourists visit each year. Kevin van Tighem is the retired park supervisor. Over the 30 years he worked for the park, until now, he sees a marked change in the resident’s knowledge as well as values or norms, thanks to BearSmart or WildSmart. And he is pleased to see that the residents share this knowledge with the visitors. -Of course there is always risk for a backlash, he says, but the situation seems stabile. When two cougars recently killed several dogs in the area, the response was not quite what one would expect. Instead of the usual aggressive outbursts, people were simply sad. Perhaps because the residents had warned each other about the cougars on the community Facebook-page, and reminded one another to keep the dogs leashed. It seems that the residents now know that these tragedies are fairly rare and above all, that they themselves can prevent them.
Kevin, who has described the recovery of the Banff wolves in The Homeward Wolf, says that the wolf in these parts is seen as the lesser threat since they avoid moving around in populated areas the way that bears, cougars and coyotes do. In fact, in the Banff area more people are injured from meetings with Elks, than of predators. And unlike in Sweden, the hunters here do not regard the wolves as competition or a threat since they do not hunt with dogs the same way as the practice is in Sweden. The fact that the authorities here still allow about 10% of the wolves to be killed each year, is something Kevin sees as a pandering to the US hunting tourism. Price money is given per killed wolf and both snare, trap and poison is allowed. One reason given for the size of the quota is that the wolf is a threat to the recovery of the threatened Caribou. Others blame the oil sands for the Caribou threat. Kevin and others like him would rather increase the wolf population, among other reasons because unlike human hunters the wolves are able to detect and target the Elk and Mule deer individuals by CWD.

Predator friendly sheep farmer
The people who have settled in the Bow River Valley, have done so aware of the wildlife in the area and many of them makes a living on tourism generated by the nature and the wildlife. But even cattle owners, who might be assumed to regard predators as a more direct threat to their livelihood, can see things differently when they become more involved. Louise Liebenberg and her husband Verstappen runs a sheep farm in central Alberta. Louise grew up on a farm in South Africa. She met Eric in the Netherlands where they owned sheep and used Boarder Collies for herding. They got their first cattle guard dog to protect their sheep from off leash dogs. On the new farm in Canada they always have about 5-6 cattle guard dogs with the sheep. These dogs are raised with the herds and are very protective of them. -They are long term deterrent, not just when something happens and that gives a peace of mind, feels Louise. But the dogs are only one part of the couple’s comprehensive wildlife management plan, now the farm is even Wildlife Friendly-certified. -A coyote spends the whole day studying your behaviour, so we do the same, says Louise. She and Eric constantly change their routines. They walk or ride around the property every day to leave their scent and to check on their cattle. They learn about the predators living in their area. -Cougars prefer heights, wolves prefer wooded areas and to hunt from larger herds rather than smaller, etc. They create protective boundaries by clearing shrubs, boulders, felled trees and do not place vulnerable animals in predator terrain. Dead animals are removed immediately and buried far from the cattle to avoid that the smell attract predators. Electrical fences, sounds and lights are used as deterrents. They have also adapted their animal management to deter predators. For instance have they changed lambing to the indoors in winter time when the predators do not have young of their own to feed or that have to practice hunting. The sheep need grazing about 8 hours a day so they are taken out in morning and afternoon shifts of 4 hours each and either Louise or Eric often stays with them throughout and use herd dogs to move them quickly. At night sheep and goats are kept indoors and larger cattle are kept in pens closer to the buildings.

A feeling of control
In Louise’s mind, protective methods are cheaper than the cost of damages by predators, since it is often not only a matter of a single killed animal but also stress that increases the risks of aborted lambs and reduces fertility. And when predator attacks do start, they are hard to stop. Louise feels that the killing of a predator is nothing but a temporary solution. Predators will always be a factor, unless we kill them all and change the whole eco system. When one predator is killed there is usually a competition over that animal’s territory. So instead of one bear, we might have several in the area for a while, says Louise, who is critical of the damage compensation paid to farmers who have not taken any precautions. In five years, she and Eric has only lost three sheep to predators, while one of the worst affected neighbours have lost almost 50% of their lambs. - A wildlife management plan should be as essential as a business plan or fire management plan, says Louise.
In a different part of Canada, in southern Ontario, there is no WildSmart Community. The sheep owners in these parts have a more emotional and negative view on predators than Louise and Eric. Mark Ritchie’s farm is on an island so the losses to predators depends on how many of them are still left after the ice breaks. He says he has to accept a loss of 2-3% but his limit is 5%. He has gotten himself a couple of herd guard dogs and the losses seems to have diminished a bit, but he also feels that the dogs means lots of extra work. The main predator in these parts are the coyote and these are quick learners. it happens that one of the dogs are lured away from the herd and the remaining dog cannot stand against  a few coyotes alone. He has received funding for electrical fences, but he also keeps sheep’s on leased land that he is not allowed to fence in. He keeps his sheep out at night and unlike Louise and Eric his lambs are born outdoors, outside in the spring. On average he loses about 50-100 lambs per season. When mark describes the way the coyotes bite until the herd has stopped moving, as cruel and a waste. In Marks mind the authorities have left the cattle owners to deal with this issue on their own with little support or compensation.

Values and emotions
Both Mark and Louise and Eric, have about 1 500 ewes and might have about 2 200 lambs per season. In comparison, most of the 13 000 sheep farmers in Sweden have no more than about 200 ewes each and the loss to predators from these are less than 1%. Since the replanting of the extinct wolves in Sweden, we now have at most 350 individuals per year. In the province of Alberta alone, which is slightly larger in size than Sweden and Norway put together, there are 6 000 wolves, and tens of thousands of black bear and coyotes. So why is the debate about wolves in Sweden so emotional and hateful?
-What makes wildlife management so difficult is that it is about values and emotions, says Jens Karlsson at Grims√∂ Viltskadecenter. He has worked with wildlife management for over 15 years and does research in Big predators and methods of deterrence. There is plenty of financial aid and guidance on offer for cattle owners in Sweden but despite this, and the knowledge about predators and wildlife disseminated by organisations like WWF, SNF (the Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature), Rovdjursf√∂reningen (The Swedish Organisation of Predatory Wildlife), and the Rovdjurscentret De 5 Stora (The Big Five), the wolf is still met by huge resistance. The Lynx and the almost 3 500 brown bears in northern Sweden is not seen as nearly a big of a problem. Perhaps because they live in the North and are popular game for hunters. The attitudes towards predators have in the past 5-6 years become of interest for researchers in various fields, such as environment psychologists, sociologist, ethnologists, etc. The difference in attitude seem to coincide with differences in people’s socioeconomical background, education, where they live and their interests. Other sources of resistance can be found in the emotional attachment part-time farmers and hunters have with their animals. -Rein deer owners, who more often suffer attacks and may lose up to 50% of their calves, are often more pragmatic when I talk to them, than southern farmers who may never even know anyone who has had animals lost to predators, says Jens. Some people see the wolf as a symbol, something that has been forced on them by politicians and environmentalists. -The wolf was gone for a long time, hunted to extinction, and now that it has been reintroduced, one cannot even hunt it, it is not seen as a common resource.
© Anna Larsson Berke, Januari 2014

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