Hunt on again
More than 300 wolves taken at Rennie Lake

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Rennie Lake (Mar 06/00) - The sensitive issue of Saskatchewan wolf hunters taking wolves in the NWT has arisen again this year, but biologists are still sorting out the impact, if any, the hunt has on wolf populations here.

Scientific approach

A collaborative study of wolves in the Rennie Lake area will soon be providing answers to some of the questions raised by the hunt.

The biggest concern is whether the hunt is wiping out whole populations of wolf.

"In one year we should have results," said study team member Marco Musiani of the University of Calgary. A doctoral student specializing in wildlife ecology and management, Musiani said the study is looking to wolves genes to find out how the populations are doing.

"In an area without roads, with not many wildlife biologists, it's unfeasible if not impossible to count wolves," said Musiani.

So the study team is examining the DNA make-up of samples taken from the hides of each of the wolves taken this year. That information will be combined with knowledge of wolf movements gathered through radio collar monitoring.

The study will determine how many different wolf populations there are in the area and whether one population is being hunted more than the rest.

"In the long term we won't be able to say how many wolves may be taken, but we can assess if too many are being taken in a specific area and whether hunting methods need to be changed," said Musiani.

The hunting method he was referring to was the elimination of entire packs by hunters. It's the most efficient way to hunt, but biologists are concerned that killing entire family groups will result in weaker populations.

"Each distinct population should be a distinct management group," Musiani said. If a management system is established for wolves, different quotas would be set for different populations.


"Southern jurisdictions are shocked when they hear hundreds of wolves are being taken, but the areas up here are vast and the population far more abundant than in the south," said Robert Mulders, carnivore and fur biologist for the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development. "We don't believe we're into an over harvest situation in this area."

The department relies on Saskatchewan wildlife officers for information on the hunt. According to information the department collected last month, 304 wolves were taken as of early January 2000. Saskatchewan wildlife officer George Bihun said about six more wolves have been taken since Christmas.

The wolves were taken by three hunters from Northern Saskatchewan hunting in the Rennie Lake area. The three returned to their home communities with their pelts at Christmas. Two returned to the area after Christmas.

Rennie Lake is 300 kilometres east-southeast of Lutsel K'e, 160 kilometres north of the Saskatchewan-NWT border.

The three have licences that allow them to hunt in the NWT, said Mulders. There is no limit on the number of wolves they can take.

RWED expects to get final numbers for the hunt in April, said Mulders.

The Rennie Lake area has become a wolf hunting hot spot because there are wintering ranges of the Bathurst and Bluenose caribou herds, and the wolf packs that follow each, sometimes overlap. The overlap has been documented through the use of satellite collars on both caribou and wolves.

The convergence of the herds creates a high concentration of wolves, ideal for hunters whose main expense is fuel for their snowmachines and who sell the wolf pelts for about $200 apiece.

The hunt created a stir in 1998, when stories ran in southern newspapers detailing the harvest and an animal rights group's criticism of the use of snowmobiles in the hunting of wolves.

The stories raised fears in the North that fur prices would be depressed by the criticism.

Territorial politicians responded to the stories with disdain. Then premier Don Morin said, "We have very little respect for these tree-huggers from southern Canada who don't understand the reality of living in the Northwest Territories."

RWED Minister Stephen Kakfwi pointed to the hypocrisy of southern criticism of the hunt, telling the legislative assembly: "If we dropped 100 wolves in Toronto tonight, they would be dead tomorrow because there they are considered dangerous pests."