As C. Gordon Hewitt traveled throughout Canada studying the wildlife and their habits, he recorded his findings and compiled much of it in a book called, “The Conservation of the Wild Life of Canada“. (I have also on this site referenced C. Gordon Hewitt’s work here and here.) Has his work been lost or disregarded? Perhaps both but there is much that we can learn from simply his observations.
One of the marked differences between wildlife studies of yesteryear and today is in Hewitt’s day, the work was done almost entirely in the field. Today, in my opinion, far too much emphasis is put on computer modeling with a disregard for what’s actually occurring in the field.
In 1921 Hewitt recorded events that are today not just disregarded but wildlife experts go out of their way to promote the complete opposite. Hewitt told readers nearly 100 years ago that if you protect predator species, prey species will diminish; all species and not just game species.
The creation on any extensive scale of wild life reserves will inevitably result in an increase within, and the attraction to such reserves of predatory mammals such as wolves and coyotes, and of birds such as eagles, great horned owls, and such noxious hawks as the goshawk, Cooper’s, and sharpshinned hawks, owing to the fact that these reserves will not only contain a larger number of the animals and their young which predatory animals destroy, but as the reserves afford sanctuary to such animals they will tend to contain a much greater abundance of wild life than neighbouring territory. Following the general rule in nature that predatory species collect where the species on which they subsist occur in unusual abundance, an increase in game and other animals will bring about an increase in their enemies, especially when the latter are harassed elsewhere.
In these same writings, Hewitt alludes to reports of what happens to prey species, more specifically deer, elk, moose, caribou and mountain sheep, when large predators, such as wolves, coyote and cougar are not controlled and are allowed to multiply in numbers. And yet today, wildlife biologists and managers readily advance the theory that these predators have little or no impact on prey species and/or even livestock.
It was an accepted fact that coyotes readily killed larger prey.
There is no doubt that they destroy not only young deer, mountain sheep, and antelope, but also large numbers of game-birds, such as geese, ducks, etc.
Hewitt writes of cougars and the destruction they can have.
They prey upon every kind of game, but are specially destructive to mountain sheep, goat, and deer, and a large male cougar will kill a horse, cow, moose, or wapiti. Deer form their chief prey. When cougars occur in numbers the deer and mountain sheep invariably decrease in numbers.
At least two things to consider here. First, as I mentioned, it was readily accepted fact that coyotes kill large prey, and second, that when these predators occur in large numbers, they are destructive to many prey species. Have these predators somehow gone through some kind of radical evolutionary transformation such that they no longer cause these effects? And not once, that I have found, has Hewitt referred to these large predators as being selective in taking out only the weak and sickly among there prey species. They are very much an opportunistic predator.
Over time it appears that due to a myriad of reasons, some of which I will not discuss here, these predators are being protected and to foster enough support to do so, bad information has been distributed and repeated to convince people that what people like C. Gordon Hewitt saw wasn’t realistic or true.
And if all this isn’t enough, how many times have we been subjected to the claims that Canada and Alaska have lived peacefully with wolves, grizzlies, coyotes and cougar?
In the early 1900s there were approximately 5-6 million people living in Canada. Today around 32 million dot the landscape. One would think there would have been far fewer problems with predation on livestock 100 years ago than today. This myth that people in Canada have gotten along amicably with wolves, coyotes and cougars can easily be dispelled simply by taking a look at what Hewitt wrote nearly 100 years ago.
Let it be known that as much as Hewitt wrote about the problems between protected predators and game animals, he says this all pales in comparison to the destruction of livestock.
From an economic point of view the destruction of live stock, especially sheep, by wolves, and particularly by coyotes, constitutes a more serious problem than the destruction of wild life,…….
Instead of living in perfect harmony with the wolves and coyotes, the Canadian people were having serious problems trying to deal with these destructive and eradicative varmints. Hewitt goes to great pains to lay out the expanse of complaints and loss of money because of predation.
Due to incessant complaining, efforts were put forth to find ways to stop the onslaught of the livestock industry by wolves, coyotes and cougars. Bounties were formulated and eventually professional government trappers and hunters were employed to target specific problem predators and other creative predator reduction gimmicks.
In the first table below, you will see a tally for three consecutive years in which wolves, cougars and coyotes were killed in British Columbia alone and bounties paid on them.
During this time period in B.C. coyotes had become an unbelievable problem as was described by a former Provincial Warden.
“The coyote nuisance has become a very serious one, as not only have they practically cleaned up all the stock of grouse, killed fawns and the deer themselves by the hundreds, but they have made the keeping of sheep in some parts of the interior almost an impossibility at the present time, and the number of domestic fowl they have killed would total a good many thousand dollars. The whole of the Dry Belt simply swarms with these pests. . . .”
In this next table, Hewitt begins to focus on similar problems in Alberta, Canada. Here you’ll find a list of 12 years in which the total amount of money that was paid in bounty claims for wolves and coyotes.
Saskatchewan had their predator problems as well but took up varied, perhaps more creative, ways to control coyotes and wolves. In 1906 it was decided that perhaps an incentive for people, more specifically hunters and trappers, would be to put together killing competitions in which quite handsome prize money was paid out to those able to kill the most number of varmints.
The table below records the number of coyotes and wolves killed between 1907 and 1917, along with the total of government bounties paid. It’s important to note here that by this time the government mandated that all communities had to participate in the bounty program. The government would cough up $10.00 for a wolf and $1 for coyotes and pups (assuming this also refers to wolf pups as the practice was in place to track down wolf dens and kill the pups.)
Municipalities had the option of adding to the amount of bounty paid out by the government. Some towns kicked in more money and other organizations may have added to the pot. This table below only records the amount of money paid out by the Canadian Government.
Don’t get distracted by all this information about bounties and whether or not they were effective. Most readily agree that bounty systems are not that effective in two ways; controlling predator numbers and creating an incentive to kill more wolves and coyotes.
What’s important is the fact that Canadians have not lived well with wolves, coyotes and cougars over the years. This illusion that Americans just don’t get it, that they can’t figure out how to get along with and “learn to live with” predators like wolves, coyotes and cougars, needs to be addressed with facts.
When it is discovered that what we are being told about how some people can get along with predators and others can’t is a lie, intelligent people get to work to discover what else we are being told are lies and for what reasons.
Recall I told you that Dr. Valerius Geist states that a wolf or coyote will always be a wolf or a coyote. It is changes in the circumstances in which they inhabit that change what they do. Wolves and coyotes in C. Gordon Hewitt’s days in Canada are the same varmints we are dealing with today. 100 years ago wolves and coyotes acted differently in different parts of Canada and within different parts of each province. It is no different today.
As we gain a better understanding of what it is that effects wolf/coyote behavior and results thereof, at least we can have an accurate understanding of how best to try to deal with these creatures.
Later on, I will take a further look into C. Gordon Hewitt’s writings and examine how controlling predators, through various methods, including hunting and trapping, can have substantial affects on our wildlife systems.