EAGLE: One of the predator species targeted to save
ISLAND MARMOT: Minister defends steps to save species.
eagles, protected under federal and international law, were
killed on provincial government orders in the winter of 2002-2003
on Nanaimo's Green Mountain, along with several wolves and
cougars. Believing that the eagles were among the animals preying
on a struggling colony of Vancouver Island marmots in the area,
staff in the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection lured
the birds with a deer carcass and then shot them.
No surprise that the ministry chose lethal means to control
the threat to the marmots, says biologist Chris Darimont, a doctoral
student who also works with the Raincoast Conservation Society.
The government bureaucrat who presided over the execution orders
-- Doug Janz, head of the Island's wildlife division -- is not
only chairman of the province's marmot recovery team, but an
outspoken advocate of predator culls for a variety of purposes.
Janz has regularly promoted wolf culls on the Island for more
than 20 years -- initially to boost flagging deer populations
so that hunters would have more to kill, and more recently to
spare marmots. Several culls of wolves and cougars have occurred
during his tenure, sometimes at the hands of government and sometimes
through a boost in permits to hunt predators, as happened last
Going after golden eagles is a relatively recent development,
and one that came to public attention this week only because
Victoria biology professor Neville Winchester happened to be
in the market recently for dead birds for his class to study.
After hearing from wildlife officials that an eagle carcass
was available, Winchester was stunned to find six in a government
freezer. He subsequently learned they had been killed to reduce
predation on the Island's marmots, whose numbers in the wild
have dwindled to just 21.
were marmots aplenty on the Island not so long ago, and they
knew how to look after themselves. The chocolate-brown creatures
with the white faces thrived here for centuries, living in large
colonies that employed "sentinel" marmots to whistle
a warning when predators approached.
But the population has been in sharp decline since the early
1980s, when the housecat-size marmots began abandoning their
high-alpine habitat for freshly logged clearcuts that they mistook
for alpine meadows.
Unlike meadows, however, clearcuts don't stay clear for long.
The marmots have died off rapidly in their unexpectedly hostile
new ranges. Despite more than a decade of frantic efforts to
save the marmots, the species is now the most endangered in the
world; some colonies now consist of no more than a single pair.
predators is vital if the marmots are to be saved from extinction,
says biologist Rick Page, scientific adviser to B.C.'s
marmot recovery team. But that doesn't have to mean killing eagles
and wolves, he adds. He favours non-lethal options such as appointing
human "marmot shepherds" to camp near at-risk colonies,
or even just making a lot of noise from the tops of nearby mountains
to scare off predators.
Janz, who wasn't returning calls Thursday, didn't tell other
members of the province's marmot recovery program that eagles
were going to be culled, says Page. The non-profit foundation
that raises funds for marmot programs has been denying rumours
about the cull for months, and is unhappy to find out they were
"The government ultimately has responsibility for the marmots,
and any other endangered species," the biologist acknowledges. "But
we feel we should have at least been asked for our advice. There
had been a discussion about predators around that time, but no
mention of killing eagles."
Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Bill Barisoff asserts
that he's a "firm believer in letting Mother Nature
take care of things," he says the eagle cull was presumably
thought to be the best solution at the time. All the ministry's
wildlife decisions are "science-based," says Barisoff,
although he didn't know what specific factors the government
considered before ordering the eagles killed.
minister doesn't think Janz's dual role puts him in a position
of conflict, but notes that it must have been very difficult
for the chairman of the marmot recovery team to watch as the
fruits of his labour were "destroyed by eagles and wolves." Asked
if he'd be prepared to see more eagles killed for the sake of
the marmots, Barisoff declined comment, saying, "There isn't
a right answer to that kind of question."
worst of it is that killing predators doesn't protect marmot
colonies, says Darimont. Animals that prey regularly on the
same colony are typically "dispersers" -- loners,
essentially. And new loners quickly move in to take over the
territory when a predator is killed off, sometimes within weeks.
"This species-versus-species thing that the ministry is
doing simply doesn't work," says Darimont. "What's
going on here is going to be looked at in time as one of the
greatest wildlife management follies in Canada, if not the world."
© Copyright 2004 Times
reprinted with permission