Ottawa needs a new Wildlife Strategy

Black bear near Hazeldean Road and Jinkinson Road, June 4, 2015. Photo by Kenny B Images.

(A black bear near Hazeldean Road and Jinkinson Road. Photo by Kenny B.)

With the recent killing of coyote in Riverside South and a young black bear in Kanata, it has become even more apparent that the City needs a progressive and humane Wildlife Strategy. The Wildlife Strategy falls under the City’s Environment and Climate Change Committee. The Chair of this committee is Councillor Shawn Menard, but so far he has been silent about wildlife and biodiversity. We are facing a biodiversity crisis, and a Wildlife Strategy is a critical part of this crisis. Ottawa, as the nation’s capital, must ensure that it takes this situation seriously.

For years, residents and organizations have asked the City to adopt a non-lethal Wildlife Strategy. Ottawa continues using outdated methods, spending $150,000 a year on a trapper to kill beaver, which is actually just 10% of the tax dollars wasted on City staff who continually inspect and unblock culverts and break up beaver dams using City equipment and manpower. This money could be used for humane, environmentally beneficial, and cost effective methods. For example, flow devices and beaver baffles are currently used by the Federal government on the Carling campus. These devices would protect City infrastructure while saving taxpayers the cost of a trapper and the extensive staff time needed for repetitive maintenance.

(A mother beaver with her kit at the Goulbourn Wetlands along the Trans Canada Trail west in 2022. A beaver bringing a new stick to the den at the Goulbourn Wetlands. Photos: Sylvie Sabourin)

The recent trapping and killing of coyotes in Riverside South was a reactive and unnecessary measure to assuage a few homeowners. Killing coyote will not address the issue. Once removed, other coyotes take their place. Moreover, traps are dangerous for children and pets, and also catch and maim non-target wildlife species. People need to alter their behaviour, which means stop feeding wildlife, ensure garbage is contained, and keep pets safely on a leash or attended.

The young black bear that was recently shot and killed in Kanata by Ottawa Police could have been spared. Residents were asked to remove the bird feeders that attracted the bear. Some of these residents refused and the bear kept coming back for a convenient food source. The City, NCC, and MNR were all involved to some degree but the outcome was that a young bear, who was never aggressive, was shot over 12 times by police who do not have a large mammal response team.

It is important to note that relocating or killing bears should not be the first line of defence. Many bears can be deterred from urban areas through non-lethal means, such as removing food attractants and using bear-resistant trash cans. Education and outreach programs can also help to raise awareness among residents about how to coexist safely with bears.

Labelling urban wildlife as ‘habituated’ and ‘nuisances’ is a default excuse used by the City in order to create negative reactions amongst residents, and to justify the ongoing trapping and killing. Wildlife in urban settings learn to adapt to their environment and they find convenient food sources. It is extensive development in Ottawa’s suburban communities that is causing some species of wildlife to be more visible throughout the city. When a wooded area is levelled for housing, a hydro corridor altered, a new municipal drain built or other human activities destroy or encroach on natural habitat, these animals are forced to alter their denning sites and foraging habits to survive. They cannot be expected to just disappear.

(A coyote seen in Kemp Woodland in 2021 near Sacred Heart High School. You can just see the coyote in the middle of the photo below the fallen log. Photo: Frank Lozanski)

Wildlife is an integral part of any city ecology, and its presence is essential to maintaining a healthy, balanced ecosystem. From insects and birds to larger mammals such as beaver, deer and coyotes, urban wildlife plays a critical role. For example, birds and bats help to control insect populations, beavers help mitigate flood and drought, and predators such as fox and coyote help to keep rodent populations in check.

Another important function of wildlife in city ecologies is that of nutrient cycling. Many animals, such as squirrels, raccoons, skunks and bears, play a crucial role in spreading seeds and other plant material throughout the city. As these animals move through urban environments, they also help to distribute nutrients that are essential to the growth and survival of plants.

As the City boundaries expand, wildlife will continue to lose habitat. We need to coexist with wildlife rather than continue the vicious cycle of trapping and killing. But we can’t achieve this without implementation of a progressive Wildlife Strategy. The City and our councillors need to work in a transparent manner with communities and wildlife friendly organizations that have the tools and expertise necessary to create a progressive Wildlife Strategy.

Anita Utas is a landscape and wildlife painter, and an appreciator of all living things.


5 thoughts on “Ottawa needs a new Wildlife Strategy”

  1. Black bears can kill same with many other wild life such as foxes.Its a very risky game to play to say just let them be.

  2. Thank you, Anita. I totally agree with many of your points. Humans are encroaching in the habitat of wildlife. We cannot expect them to simply ‘move on’ but need to work with them to ensure their needs are met. If that means not tempting them with bird feeders, I’m all for it. I also agree that more humane approaches need to be employed if wildlife is deemed in need of removal. Let’s be more respectful. “We need to coexist with wildlife rather than continue to vicious cycle of trapping and killing.”

    1. It would be more then bird feeders in the spring it could mean kids and pets can’t be outside.There can be no sports people can’t go for walk or runs.

  3. Thank you for such a measured and thoughtful piece of writing on this issue! As the nation’s capital, the City needs to be a leader and set an example for municipalities across the country instead of being a laggard. Cooperation with the Anishinabe Algonquin here is also essential – their knowledge is invaluable for protecting wildlife.

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