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5 reasons to oppose Ontario’s proposed war on wolves & coyotes

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1. It distracts the public from the lack of concerted efforts to halt moose declines

“consider the potential additive effects of calf hunting cautiously when contemplating changes to moose hunting regulations.” – MNRF research biologist Brent Patterson, 2013

Moose are declining at an alarming rate in many jurisdictions such as Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota and Montana. Many of those areas have prohibited moose harvesting while they investigate the reasons behind the declines. Ontario needs to build on its commitment to change hunting regulations, manage resource extraction and development to limit impacts on wolf-moose-caribou dynamics and plan for the long-term effects of climate change.

MNRF currently collects data on wolf/coyote sightings and hunting effort, which helps to clarify moose-predator dynamics. Part of the proposed regulation changes are to remove the mandatory game “seal” reporting requirements for coyote and wolf hunters in Central and Northern Ontario. This reduction in research effort clearly demonstrates the MNRF’s lack of commitment to determine the true cause of moose declines.

 

2. Wolf and coyote control is unethical and will not prevent moose declines

“Unfortunately, the notion of humane treatment is often the first casualty of turning a species into a pest” – renowned ecologists Fryxell, Caughley and Sinclair

The Ministry has no scientific evidence showing that encouraging hunters to kill wolves and coyotes will benefit moose. In fact, the Moose Project website summarizes scientific research that suggests the opposite.

Only the removal of an entire pack can substantially reduce predation but this practice may not be ecologically or socially desirable. Changing hunting and trapping regulations to allow more wolves to be harvested is unlikely to remove an entire pack.” – MNRF Moose Project

Ministry biologists learned that in Ontario, “relative to what’s out there, wolves killed proportionately more old and vulnerable moose”.  They also learned that eastern coyotes don’t pose a significant threat to moose:

“it seems unlikely that predation by coyotes and hybrids is cause for conservation concern in central Ontario.” - MNRF research biologist Brent Patterson & Dr. John Benson, 2013

Moreover, there is strong evidence from Central Ontario that hunting pressure increases moose deaths, instead of compensating for deaths from predation and natural causes. Ontario’s moose are managed under the compensatory framework. Clearly moose harvest policy must be changed to reflect this new knowledge.

The BC and Alberta governments are currently attempting to exterminate wolves in endangered caribou habitat, yet the caribou populations are not increasing. Once again, government encouragement of predator control as a band-aid solution to the larger problem of declining prey species fails at the expense of thousands of wolves.

 

3. By eliminating the wolf/coyote seal across much of Ontario, MNRF will lose funds needed to enforce regulations and conduct future research 

“the 2013 budget restored some of the funding but the ministry had already made deep cuts, reducing the number of MNRF technicians to 21 from 48” – Toronto Sun, 2015

Wolf and coyote seals cost a mere $11.14 for Ontario residents and are currently limited to 2/hunter/year.

At a very small cost to individual hunters, the MNRF collects badly needed funds that help them carry out essential research and management enforcement.

This proposal perpetuates the under-funding of MNRF by removing the wolf/coyote seal once required across all of Central and Northern Ontario. Without adequate funding, MNRF researchers will be unable to identify the reasons behind moose declines.

 

4. The regulations result in an expansion of Ontario’s war on the coyote

“Know thine enemy” – Barry Potter, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs livestock specialist

By encouraging hunters to kill as many coyotes as they want in Northern Ontario, this proposal worsens the already medieval management of the species. It is time these animals are managed with more compassion and respect for their ecological contribution to Ontario’s diverse landscapes. 

Eastern coyotes are fascinating examples of evolution. Arriving in Ontario in the early 1900s, they bred with remnant eastern wolves and became incredibly well-adapted to a variety of habitats.

Following the systematic extermination of wolves in Southern Ontario during European settlement, rodent and deer populations became hyperabundant and have cost millions in crop devastation. Described as wily, wolf-like vermin, the eastern coyote’s ability to fill the role of top predator in areas dominated by people is actually a blessing. Coyotes are now the only predator capable of controlling deer in Ontario’s populated areas – deer culling would not be necessary in areas with a coyote population protected from harvesting.

However, coyotes are still slaughtered to prevent livestock depredation in most of the province. MNRF and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) support these actions, ignoring science that shows coyotes populations are next to impossible to control, that non-lethal predator management can successfully mitigate livestock losses and that attempts to control coyote populations likely exacerbate livestock losses.

Wolves and coyotes evolved alongside wild prey that are considerably harder to catch than livestock such as newborn calves and fearless, fenced-in sheep. By killing members of a coyote family, hunters splinter the tight pack structure that allows coyotes to take down larger prey like white-tailed deer. As such, fragmented coyote packs might be more of a threat to livestock than coyotes that are left alone by hunters.

Coyotes and wolves dispersing south are never safe from hunters in Southern Ontario under existing legislation. Whole pack families can be destroyed as they nurse and raise newborn pups each spring.

  

5. Proposed regulations endanger Ontario’s at-risk eastern wolves 

“There are probably fewer than 500 Eastern Wolf in Canada … Special concern species do not receive species or habitat protection.” – MNRF

On December 8th 2015, The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) voted on the re-assessment of eastern wolves. COSSARO was expected to follow the lead of their sister committee in Canada and reclassify the animals as a unique species at a higher risk of extinction – up from “Special Concern” to “Threatened” or “Endangered”. Either of these levels would automatically and immediately protect Ontario’s eastern wolves.

Typically, COSSARO notifies MNRF about their decisions on December 31st, half-way through the commenting period for this proposal.

MNRF’s own research shows that there are eastern wolves in various parts of Central Ontario, well outside their stronghold (and only fully protected habitat) in and around Algonquin Provincial Park. The research also shows that compared to coyotes and hybrids, eastern wolves are the most likely to die outside of protected areas. Researchers have consistently claimed that the recovery of the species is virtually impossible if hunting and trapping seasons remain open in Central Ontario.

With this proposal, MNRF suggests new canine management boundaries to mitigate threats to this at-risk species. However, hunters will still be allowed to shoot up to 2 wolves/coyotes in eastern wolf range, and will no longer be required to report on their hunting activity.

Without genetic testing, no one can distinguish between coyotes, eastern wolves or their hybrids in Ontario. The government admits that they have no way of determining how many eastern wolves hunters or trappers are killing each year across the province. This is completely unacceptable.

Timing is Everything for the Eastern Wolf

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Ontario’s eastern wolves are a species of Special Concern. Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 500 individuals left, so why are they not better protected?

Eastern wolves residing in Algonquin Provincial Park and its adjacent townships have year-round protection from hunting and trapping. But wolves outside of those areas are not so lucky. With the exception of Algonquin Park, trappers are permitted to harvest eastern wolves in all provincial parks and conservation reserves.

Hybridization with coyotes also threatens the wolves. And since eastern wolves can only be distinguished from eastern coyotes through genetic analysis, hunters targeting coyotes can unwittingly kill wolves instead.

Given the threats this species at risk faces, why does the killing continue?

This year, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recommended that the Minister of Environment up list eastern wolves to Threatened. Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), this change in their legal status would require the release of a ‘recovery strategy’ within 2 years.

In response to the growing backlog of species waiting to be listed and protected with a conservation plan by the Minister, Environment Canada published a realistic timeline for the release of overdue management and recovery strategies. Unless Minister McKenna, the new Minister of Environment, is better able to address the at-risk dilemma, we should not expect the release of the mandated ‘management plan’ until 2017 – a staggering 9 years late. If the management plan is 9 years late, how late will a recovery plan be?

The silver lining on this cloud is that the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) will assess the eastern wolf during their winter meeting on December 9-10th, 2015. Hopefully, COSSARO’s assessment will lead to protective measures.

In the meantime, what fate awaits other species whose listing status changes during the time it takes for the Canadian government to address the growing number of species at risk?

When it comes to wildlife at risk, we do not have the luxury of time to waste.

New trapping regulation proposal endangers eastern wolves

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On August 12th, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proposed an amendment to the regulations that govern trapping in Ontario.  Ministry biologists and a trapper conducted an experimental capture of coyotes using new devices called “relaxing cable restraints”. The results showed that of 20 animals trapped, 17 were coyotes. The three others were a domestic dog caught around the neck, and a white tailed deer and raccoon both caught around the torso; they were released by the trapper, apparently unharmed.

Injuries to coyotes were assessed after each animal was shot in the head by the trapper and submitted to a veterinary pathologist. Six coyotes were submitted skinned, the trapper having sold their pelt for profit.

Injuries were deemed acceptable according to the Agreement on the International Humane Trapping Standards but were gruesome: including one coyote who suffered several injuries having tried to chew himself out of the trap and many instances of lacerations on the neck. Three traps were chewed through entirely and one was dragged away, likely having captured a large animal such as a bear or an adult deer.

Earthroots does not believe that these results show that relaxing cable restraints are selective. Instead, they appear to pose a serious threat to non-target animals.

Despite the Ministry’s reasoning that these traps are more selective than killing snares, the point remains that the Ontario government condones killing coyotes and other wildlife deemed as a threat or nuisance, instead of educating the public to prevent conflict in the first place. Not only is harming and killing wildlife ethically bankrupt, science shows that it does not reduce and can actually exacerbate livestock depredation.

Furthermore, legalizing this trapping device would give trappers false confidence in trap selectivity for coyotes. Given that eastern wolves and coyotes are physically indistinguishable in Ontario, the unintentional trapping and killing of eastern wolves is possible where their ranges overlap.  The government knowingly endangers eastern wolves, a species at risk of extinction, by supporting this trapping device and the use of trapping in general as a response to perceived threats from wildlife.

In collaboration with several other conservation organizations, Earthroots authored a comment in opposition to this proposal addressing the fundamental flaws in the arguments for trapping and killing wildlife in Ontario.

 

You can read our public comment below. Sign up as a Wolf Defender and we’ll let you know about government proposals like these and provide information about how to exercise your right to comment on legislative changes. Use your voice to speak up for wildlife!

 

 

 


 

 

September 28, 2015

 

Wildlife Section
PUBLIC INPUT COORDINATOR
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Policy Division
Species Conservation Policy Branch
Wildlife Section
300 Water Street
Peterborough Ontario
K9J 8M5
Phone: (705) 755-1940
Fax: (705) 755-2901

 

 

Subject: EBR Registry Number: 012-4735: Amendments to Ontario Regulation 667/98 (Trapping) made under Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to regulate the use of relaxing cable restraints for trapping in Ontario

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

 

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to trapping regulations in Ontario. We acknowledge the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (MNRF) attempt to mitigate the effects of trapping on non-target species by testing the relaxed cable restraint device (RCR).

 

We agree with Knowlton et al. (1999) that “because various segments of society attach different values to coyotes, resolution of depredations should use management programs that integrate the social, legal, economic, and biological aspects of the animals and the problem. Preferred solutions should involve procedures that solve problems as effectively, efficiently, and economically as possible in the least intrusive and most benign ways.”

 

However, we are concerned that the proposed changes made under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) do not provide such a solution. We outline these concerns below and provide recommendations to address the underlying reason for the proposed regulation changes.

 

  1. There is little to no evidence in the scientific literature that supports the use of lethal control/removal of canids as an effective, long-term tool for reducing livestock depredation.

 

Trappers and farmers permitted to use trapping devices to capture coyotes and wolves in defense of property do not often have access to the scientific literature that addresses predator control. They often lack the best available information about mitigating livestock depredation. We suggest that MNRF focus on equipping farmers and trappers with this information in order to help reduce conflict between predators and farmers.

 

Several studies on predator management discuss results that are perhaps counter-intuitive to farmers and trappers:

 

  1. Harper et al. (2008) and Wielgus & Peebles (2014) found no evidence that removal of wolves decreased the rate of depredation the following year, in Minnesota and Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, respectively, unless the population was harvested at an unsustainable rate. In fact, both studies found that livestock depredation increased the following year. Wallach et al. (2009) found that lethal control of dingoes in Australia did not necessarily reduce abundance of the predator and led to socially fractured populations. They add that socially unstable predator populations are often correlated with higher livestock losses, a result echoed by Allen and Gonzalez (1997, dingoes in Australia), Conner et al. (1998; coyotes in the USA) and Peebles et al. (2013, cougars in the USA). Ongoing harvesting of canids to reduce their population to near-zero in order to reduce livestock depredation risk is both ecologically and socially unacceptable. Coyotes and wolves provide useful ecosystem services to farmers such as controlling rodent and deer populations and are inherently valuable and deserving of protection from systematic eradication.

 

  1. Selective removal of problem/breeding coyotes is both difficult and ecologically complex (Conner et al. 2007) and appears to reduce depredation for only a very short period of time (see review in Jaeger 2004).

 

  1. There exists a wide variety of methods to prevent livestock depredation by wolves and coyotes including but not limited to: removing deadstock quickly and reducing other open attractants, confining or concentrating livestock during periods of high vulnerability (e.g. calving/lambing), using livestock guardian animals (e.g. dogs, llamas, donkeys etc.), maintaining a human presence in areas of the property where animals are pastured using deterrents such as fladry, turbofladry and sound/light deterrents. When used correctly and adaptively, these tools can be combined on a case-by-case basis to effectively reduce livestock depredation and replace lethal predator management altogether. For example, Harper et al. (2008) analyzed lethal management by trapping in particular, and suggested that daily visits simulating trapping may be a more cost effective tool than actually trapping wolves.

 

 

Recommendations:

 

  1. Educate farmers in wolf/coyote range about non-lethal predator management to complement the existing livestock compensation program.

 

  1. Transition from the reactionary trapping and the compensation program administered by the Livestock, Poultry and Honeybee Protection Act to the prevention of livestock depredation by providing financial incentives to farmers who adopt non-lethal predator management approaches.

 

 

 

  1. Coyote trapping in many areas of southern and central Ontario continues to threaten the survival and dispersal of eastern wolves (Canis lycaon), a species at risk.

 

Eastern wolves were recently assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), where they were deemed a unique species (see Rutledge et al. 2015) and listed as Threatened. Following the recent appointment of a new chair of the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), eastern wolves will be re-assessed at the provincial level by 2016. We hope that a recovery strategy for the species will be released in a timely fashion in conjunction with studies, past and present, (e.g. those conducted by Rutledge and Benson in collaboration with Dr. Brent Patterson) of the MNRF that detail the various threats to eastern wolves. Conclusions from these studies include:

 

  1. Anthropogenic mortality is a threat to eastern wolves. Eastern wolf survival is lower than that of other canis types outside of the protected area in and around Algonquin Provincial Park (APP).
  2. Hybridization is a threat to eastern wolves. Hybridization with coyotes is higher in areas where canids are harvested.
  3. Eastern wolves are not likely to recover outside of APP to their historical range without protection from harvest.
  4. Eastern wolves and the coyotes that inhabit Ontario are physically indistinguishable – without genetic testing, you cannot differentiate between a pure eastern wolf and a coyote or a hybrid.
  5. Eastern wolves and other canis types have overlapping body sizes.
  6. MNRF is uncertain about the current and historical range of the eastern wolf in Ontario.

 

It follows that eastern wolves are very likely caught in traps laid for coyotes. Furthermore, since a trapper or farmer is unable to differentiate between a coyote and an eastern wolf, they may be killing eastern wolves unintentionally. The relaxed cable restraint (RCR) will not protect eastern wolves despite MNRF’s intent to reduce non-target species mortality and endangers this species at risk. The federal and provincial status of the eastern wolf therefore precludes the use of RCR or any other coyote trapping device in suspected, known and historic eastern wolf range while the species is threatened with extinction.

 

 

 

Recommendations:

 

  1. Immediately prohibit all wolf/coyote trapping in known and suspected eastern wolf range.

 

  1. Incorporate direction for non-lethal, preventative predator management of both wolves and coyotes for farmers into the Strategy for Wolf Conservation in Ontario and the FWCA.

 

 

We strongly urge you to adopt our recommendations and ensure that famers are protected from the economic costs of maintaining healthy, resilient and socially stable canid predator populations in Ontario.

 

 

Signatories,

 

Hannah Barron, Director of Wildlife Conservation

Earthroots

 

Amber Ellis, Executive Director

Earthroots

 

Lesley Sampson, Founding Executive Director

Coyote Watch Canada

 

Lia Laskaris, Director

Animal Alliance of Canada

 

Camille Labchuck, Director of Legal Advocacy

Animal Justice Canada Legislative Fund

 

Liz White, Leader

Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada

 

Barry MacKay, Canadian Representative,

Born Free USA

 

Ainslie Willock, Director,

Canadians for Bears

 

Liz White/Donna DuBreuil, Spokespersons

Ontario Wildlife Coalition

 

Donna DuBreuil, President

Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre

 

 

References:

 

Allen L and Gonzales T.1998. Baiting reduces dingo numbers, changes age structure yet often increases calf losses. Australian Vertebrate Pest Control Conference 11:421–428.

Conner MM, Jaeger MM, Weller TJ and McCullough DR. 1998. Effect of coyote removal on sheep depredation in northern California. Journal of Wildlife Management 62:690–699.

Conner MM, MR Ebinger and FF Knowlton. 2008. Evaluating coyote management strategies using a spatially explicit, individual-based, socially structured population model. Ecological Modelling 219: 234-247.

Harper E, Williams PH, Mech LD and Wiesberg S. 2008. Effectiveness of lethal, directed wolf-depredation control in Minnesota. The Journal of Wildlife Management 72:778-783.

Jeager MM. 2004. Selective targeting of Alpha coyotes to stop sheep depredation. Sheep and Goat Research Journal, Paper 9.

Knowlton, FF, EM Gese and MM Jaeger. 1998. Coyote depredation control: An interface between biology and management. Journal of Range Management, 52, 398-412.

Peebles KA, Wielgus RB, Maletzke BT and Swanson ME (2013) Effects of remedial sport hunting on cougar complaints and livestock depredations. PLoS ONE.

Rutledge LY, Devillard S, Boone JQ, Hohenlohe PA and White BN. 2015 RAD sequencing and genomic simulations resolve hybrid origins within North American Canis. Biology Letters. 11: 20150303.

Wallach AD, Ritchie EG, Read J and O’Neill AJ. 2009. More than Mere Numbers: The Impact of Lethal Control on the Social Stability of a Top-Order Predator. PLoS ONE 24.

Wielgus RB and Peebles KA. 2014. Effects of wolf mortality on livestock depredation. PLoS ONE 9(12): e113505.

 

 

 

Ontario’s Moose Project: A Death Sentence for Wolves?

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The Ontario Government has begun Phase 2 of the Moose Project. In response to recent moose declines in some areas of Ontario and many other jurisdictions in North American, the government has proposed changes to the moose hunting season, and is consulting the public about other possible factors in the decline of Ontario’s moose.

Not surprisingly, many people who profit from killing moose have been lobbying the government to reduce hard-won protection for wolves.  An alarming amount of wolves are already killed in the more accessible parts of Ontario.

- Removing the 2 wolves/hunter bag limit would exacerbate the unsustainable harvest of wolves in those areas.

- Opening up the closed season in core wolf range endangers wolf families when they are most vulnerable – when they are rearing their pups.

Wolves and other predators are being scapegoated for the moose declines. Help ensure the government considers the full range of management options and does not condone the slaughter of more wolves for the sake of moose hunters – submit your comments in opposition to predator control at mooseproject@ontario.ca.

Sign up as a Wolf Defender and become engaged as the Moose Project unfolds.

Eastern wolves assigned threatened status

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Following over two years of deliberation, the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) announced that the at-risk status of eastern wolves has worsened.  On May 4, 2015 COSEWIC released their decision to assign the eastern wolf, now considered a unique species (Canis c.f. lycaon), threatened status in Canada. Prior to this latest decision, eastern wolves were designated a grey wolf subspecies of ‘special concern‘ in 2001.

The management plan required for species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) has been overdue since 2008. SARA requires that a recovery plan be released within 2 years of a species being listed as threatened. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed recovery strategy.

Currently, both provincial committees on species at risk in Ontario (COSSARO) and Quebec are unable to assess the status of eastern wolves as a unique species due to lack of members and budget cuts, respectively.  Sign up as a Wolf Defender to learn about ways you can help ensure eastern wolves gain increased protection despite these obstacles.

Read COSEWIC’s press release here.

Awaiting the federal re-assessment of the eastern wolf’s at-risk status

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Earthroots is eagerly awaiting the results from the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s (COSEWIC) re-assessment of the eastern wolf’s at-risk status.

COSEWIC is currently meeting in Quebec City for the first of its 2015 meetings.  As of 2001, eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) were listed as a grey wolf subspecies of special concern.  Since this assessment, researchers discovered that eastern wolves are a unique wolf species  occurring only in Canada, and are closely related to the endangered red wolf in the United States.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources estimated that the total population does not exceed 500 individuals.  However, a management plan (legally required under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) within three years of a species being designated ‘special concern’) was never released.  In 2014, Environment Canada published a 3-year plan that outlines the timelines for release of all overdue recovery documents, including recovery documents for the eastern wolf in 2016-1017.

Earthroots originally applied to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to provincially re-assess the eastern wolf in 2010.  The government denied the application, citing that COSEWIC was already reviewing the population. The federal assessment is only now being released, five years later.  The provincial assessment will likely match the federal designation, and is expected to be released by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario in Spring, 2015.

In Ontario, eastern wolves are only fully protected from hunting and trapping in and around Algonquin Provincial Park.  However, the latest research contributed by OMNR biologists reveals that eastern wolves are prone to being trapped, hunted and killed by vehicle collisions outside of their protection zone.  Earthroots urges the provincial government to immediately expand full protection from harvest to both eastern wolves and the indistinguishable eastern coyote in all suspected eastern wolf range, including the Frontenac Axis that joins the Algonquin and Adirondacks protected complexes.

 

Moratorium on canid harvest to protect eastern wolves around Algonquin Provincial Park

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(Toronto) Today Minister of Natural Resources announced a 30-month moratorium on the hunting and trapping of wolves in the 39 townships immediately surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park.

In 1998, Minister Snobelen appointed the Algonquin Wolf Advisory Group (AWAG) to recommend a long term Adaptive Management Plan for the wolves with the goal of reducing human-caused wolf mortality. On January 15th 2001, the committee’s recommendations were posted to the electronic Environmental Bill of Rights registry for a two-month public comment period. The central and most contested feature of the report was the suggestion to merely limit the hunting and trapping season in 37 townships surrounding the park. A full year round closure on hunting and trapping wolves was only recommended for 4 of the 37 townships. These townships: Finlayson, McClintock, Livingstone and Airy border the south gate of the park. Killing the wolves within these townships would affect the success of the popular public wolf howl. 

Dr. John Theberge is critical of this short-term decision – “The timeframe for the ban, limited to 2 ‡ years, is still not long enough. It is not long enough for a significant population recovery; ultimately a permanent ban must be implemented.” 

Canada’s eastern wolf population at risk

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Eastern wolves listed as a Species of Special Concern at the Federal level

(Toronto) On May 3rd, 2001 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the Eastern wolf as a Species of Special Concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activity or natural events. COSEWIC is a National Committee with representatives from the federal and provincial governments, private agencies and individual experts.