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Wolf Crossings

A Rural Viewpoint On Wolf Reintroduction And Protection

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Updated 10-06

 

 

INDEPTH: A Dangerous Mix
Garbage, wolves and death
CBC News Online | March 07, 2006

If wolves killed Ontario university student Kenton Carnegie, lax environmental regulations may have played a role in the tragedy, a CBC investigation indicates.

Documents obtained by the CBC show that Saskatchewan Environment Department officials have been concerned about an illegal garbage dump near the Points North Landing mining supply camp – a dump that wolves have been regularly visiting. The department confirms it has been trying to do something about the dump for years.

Wolves are fearsome predators but are naturally shy around humans. The province's Environment Department and other experts say there are no documented cases of healthy wolves killing a human in the wild in North America, although non-fatal attacks have been reported.  (To put that in perspective, more than 300 people have died in North America in the past quarter century in attacks by domestic dogs.)


From loss of fear to aggression

Wolves, humans and garbage are a dangerous mix.

Experts say that when wolves find easy meals – either when people feed them or when they help themselves at landfills – they tend to lose their fear of people, making them more dangerous.

And there's evidence that's what happened at Points North Landing, about 750 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

The Points North Landing dump is filled with bits of waste food, empty milk jugs and other types of domestic trash one would find in any dumpster or landfill in Canadian towns and cities. The main difference is, it's unfenced and unlicenced.

It’s also on Crown land, meaning it’s ultimately the province's responsibility.

There's no question wolves were seen in the area before Carnegie's death.

Among the documents CBC obtained from the Environment Department is a set of photographs showing wolves in close proximity to people around Points Landing North – taken by Carnegie's co-workers a few days before he died.

One picture shows a tan and black wolf staring at a man with a stick a few metres away. Others show curious wolves standing their ground with little apparent concern for the man with the camera a stone's throw away.

In the days after Carnegie's death, there was a flurry of e-mail exchanges among Environment Department officials about the landfill.


Who's responsible for the dump?

They raise the concern that the dump exists without an operating permit and that previous efforts to bring the site under proper regulation have failed.

For example, in a Dec. 6 e-mail with the subject "RE: Wolves and the proper disposal of garbage," environment official Tim Trottier writes: "It seems to me we should press for some resolution of this issue and get someone to take responsibility for operating a dump in the area. Would not Points North be the major contributor of garbage? I can see us being called to task for not doing something given the recent incident."

Related document: What to do about the dump
In a series of e-mails, Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, Saskatchewan Environment Department officials discuss what to do about the unregulated Points North Landing landfill.
View Document (698 K .pdf file) PDF

Related document: "Wolf problems"
In Dec. 6-10, 2005 e-mails, Environment Department officials discuss Points North Landing and wolves.
View Document (807 K .pdf file) PDF

Rosalie Tsannie, the coroner for northern Saskatchewan who was at the site where Carnegie was discovered, is convinced open garbage attracts hungry predators and did so in this case.

It's a problem that isn't unique to Points North Landing, she says.

"It's [in] other communities in the north as well. Black Lake, Fond du Lac, Wollaston Lake, they all have landfills and they all have the same issue, the same type of relationship that the animals have with the landfills."


Wolves where they don't belong

Tsannie said she consulted First Nations elders and was told that nature is out of balance in this case.

Wolves don't belong here, she said. "If landfills weren't here, I don't believe this would be an area that they would be. They most likely would be following the caribou herds and normally not around humans 'cause they fear humans."

Deputy environment minister Lily Stonehouse confirmed that the government has known about problems with the dump for years.

"We've been working with Points North and others in the area for several years now in terms of bringing that landfill into compliance," she said.
"We are going to have to think that through very carefully – we can't fence everything in the north."

However, the government hasn't talked to Carnegie's family about any possible link between wolves, garbage and his death.

"We need to wait for the coroner's report to understand what the circumstances were here," Stonehouse said.

It's not the first time a wolf attack has been linked to landfills in Saskatchewan.

In December 2004, a miner at Cameco's Key Lake uranium mine, about 590 kilometres north of Saskatoon, was attacked by a wolf while he was jogging along a bush road. He was able to fight off the lone wolf until co-workers came by and helped scare the animal off.

"As a result of the wolf incident… Cameco has conducted an extensive wildlife management awareness campaign at each of its operations," says a government e-mail from Nov. 30, 2005. "Feeding of wildlife at Cameco's operations is grounds for company disciplinary action."

Cameco has also installed electrified fencing at its Key Lake landfill. Other company operations now either incinerate their garbage or, like Key Lake, have put electrified fences around their dumps.

These facts are cold comfort to Kenton Carnegie's family.


A family's anguish

Four months after his death, they're struggling to deal with their grief. They're frustrated by what they see as a lack of disclosure about what happened to their son.

Carnegie's father, Kim, said part of him wants to forgive and forget, but he feels he won't really begin to accept his son's death until his questions are answered.

He wants to know whether his son was given proper warning about the wolves, and if not, why not? He wants to know why more wasn't done to make Points North Landing safer.

What he has learned about the case so far infuriates him.

"I have an anger in me that I've never felt before," he said. "I have a hard time keeping track of my emotions. I just feel it could've been prevented, and that's what bothers me most."