by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Canada's Capital, Where Wildlife So Needlessly Dies
Earlier this month, an elk was found wandering in a wooded area in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. Elk were extirpated from Ontario by the end of the 19th century. This animal apparently wandered in from a small herd maintained for hunters, a few hundred kilometers away. Although transected by many natural wildlife corridors and containing lots of good habitat, Ottawa is a deadly place for wildlife: a sort of Texas north. It’s as though the dogmatically anti-environmental, anti-wildlife policies of our current and lamented Ottawa-based federal government somehow leech into municipal policy-making.
The people of Ottawa seem as good and decent as any, and when the elk was seen, there was no concern. According to eye-witness accounts, the big animal was well contained in a safe environment for three hours where it was ideally situated to be tranquilized, had the equipment and properly trained people been available. Sadly, the animal started to show signs of stress (Do you blame him?) and the police were instructed by the usual crew of “wildlife managers” to shoot him.
The police are not wildlife experts and should not have to take the blame for Ottawa’s chronically lethal policies. Telling the police that they had no choice but to shoot the elk is part of an overall mindset that, while not representative of the public, is all too representative of the city’s wildlife management policies overall.
On March 24, 1975, in Ottawa (ironically), the federal government formally declared the beaver “a symbol of sovereignty.” However, Ottawa’s beavers are trapped and killed in large numbers: 150 killed last year by the city alone, plus others in adjoining areas. But, they don’t have to be. If they cause problems by blocking waterways, there are excellent long-term solutions in the form of easily-maintained devices that simply prevent the animals from blocking water flow. But, the Ottawa mindset for dealing with wildlife that dares to intrude ranges from killing to… killing. Their “Wildlife Strategy,” put in force earlier this year, was supposed to change all of that—but what Cynthia Jacobson and Daniel Decker have referred to as “the iron triangle” instead prevailed. Jacobson, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Decker, with Cornell University’s Department of Natural resources, wrote, “The relationship between bureaucrats, policy makers and interest groups has been referred to as an iron triangle… because it is thought to be an enduring network of like-minded interests impenetrable by outsiders… the iron triangle relationship between resource management agencies, traditional commodity users, and policy makers.” It prevents outsiders—the majority of tax payers—from the decision and policy-making processes pertaining to wildlife.
And, as retired professor of psychology, Bob Altemeyer, states of such folks: “They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide.” (See: http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf)
Few people have all of those traits, but they do tend to describe too many of the bureaucrats I’ve met in wildlife management fields. The concern was that responses to wildlife issues in Ottawa were within the “iron triangle” of the City’s by-law department, the National Capital Commission (NCC), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). There may be some progressive and compassionate thinkers in all of the groups, and maybe even in the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, which “is responsible for ensuring that the unique interests and requirements of the City’s rural areas are taken into account in the decisions made by the City of Ottawa.” But, if they’re there, they are not influential. The NCC reportedly tried to tranquilize the elk, but its failure to do so underscores the need for an effectively trained and equipped response team. The best response is usually to control the people, leave the “intruding” animal alone, and clear a corridor for its departure.
The irony is that the public is increasingly wary of even reporting such animals as deer, bear, or other wildlife that, while not dangerous per se, can certainly pose a risk to humans or to property if they wander into the city (which they inevitably do). Indeed, the City of Ottawa and the NCC should have also been wary of killing this animal because he was one of a few hundred elk wandering the Bancroft landscape, not too far away, and already suffering the lethal attention of hunters. Under any other circumstances, the OMNR would have declared the animal part of an endangered elk population, descended from animals introduced to replace the ones wiped out over a century ago, and needful of protection. But, being part of the iron triangle dictates pretzel-like arguments about why the few hundred elk somehow benefit greatly by being shot by hunters.
I am so grateful that in Toronto, near where I live, there are more progressive approaches to wildlife-human interactions, including many of those enacted by our very thoughtful, open, and transparent Toronto Region Conservation Authority. It’s not perfect—debates and even rancor can occur—but folks in the Greater Toronto Area don’t automatically reach for traps and guns in our dealings with wild animals. Maybe it’s our distance from the sadly anti-environment federal government that makes the difference. I don’t live in Ottawa, and I don’t know how to drag it into the 21st Century—but I hope it happens soon.