Ontario is Sacrificing Wolves, Coyotes, and Moose to Appease Hunters

Timber wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

It’s wolf and coyote hunting season in Ontario. In the coming months, hundreds of these smart, highly social animals will be gunned down by hunters, and pierced with arrows throughout the province.

If the Ontario government has its way, things are about to get even worse for wolves and coyotes across much of Northern Ontario. In a move to placate hunters, the government wants to relax rules governing the hunting of these keystone predators in the north under the guise of addressing Ontario’s decline in moose population numbers.

Though they are a convenient scapegoat, wolves and coyotes are not responsible for Ontario’s dwindling moose populations. Science points to a less convenient reality, in which the real culprits are human-caused habitat loss and climate change, which causes changes in wildlife range and vegetation, as well as parasite loadings. Humans are also hunting too many moose, particularly moose calves.

The new regulations would allow small game hunters to kill as many eastern coyotes as they want virtually year-round, including during coyote pupping season, with no duty to even report the number of coyotes killed. No matter that eastern coyotes are not major predators of moose.

The government also wants to let small game hunters kill up to two wolves per year in this area of the north. Hunters would no longer be required to purchase special game seals or report how many wolves they kill, making this cap essentially unenforceable.

The lack of reporting also means there will be no way to study the potentially far-reaching effects of the changes on ecosystems, moose, and other species, such as caribou.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is clearly not taking its duty to protect Ontario’s biodiversity seriously.

The government’s own science shows this move will not reduce the number of moose killed by wolves. While wolf hunting does reduce pack size, smaller packs do not kill significantly fewer moose than do larger packs. Wolves also generally kill the youngest, oldest and weakest moose, leaving the strong moose behind to reproduce.

As apex predators, wolves and coyotes play an essential role in maintaining biodiversity in this province. They have coexisted with moose, as well as Indigenous human populations, for thousands of years.

The government says it is trying to protect moose, when in reality it is ignoring the real threats to the species’s survival, ignoring the ecosystem impacts of the mass slaughter of apex predators, and turning a blind eye to the suffering of wolves and coyotes. It’s time to call the proposal what it is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Ontario abandoned a similar proposal in 2016, when the public called it out as unethical and unscientific. Let’s hope the current government also gets the message: To protect Ontario’s biodiversity, we need conservation and compassion, not cruelty and suffering.

Kaitlyn Mitchell is a staff lawyer at Animal Justice, Canada’s leading non-profit organization focused on using the law to protect animals.

This column first appeared in the Toronto Star.