A male wolf roams a tundra in Nunavut in this March 2009 file photo. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
There were twice as many wolves killed in the second year of B.C.’s controversial cull than the first, the government revealed Tuesday.
A total of 163 wolves were shot from helicopters over the winter in the South Selkirk and South Peace regions, compared to the 84 that were killed the previous year.
The B.C. government maintains the cull is necessary to protect the province’s caribou herds, but opponents argue the only way to save the dwindling populations is through habitat protection.
“It’s just an unbelievable amount of cruelty being waged on wolves in British Columbia, and by all accounts it’s a futile effort,” said Ian McAllister, executive director of conservation group Pacific Wild.
“It’s not going to bring caribou back.”
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the South Selkirk caribou herd declined from 46 in 2009 to 18 in 2014. By March of this year, the population had further fallen down to 12.
The four herds in the South Peace region are also shrinking, and the government blames 37 per cent of adult caribou deaths in the area on wolf predation.
But the main cause of the declines, according to Pacific Wild, is habitat lost through logging, mining, and oil and gas exploration.
“The government is using wolves as a scapegoat,” McAllister said. “They’re continuing to ignore the scientific community that has expressed extreme concerns about the efficacy of this wolf cull, and they’re refusing to respond to the vast majority of British Columbians who oppose it.”
According to a 2014 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, a wolf cull in Alberta might have helped stabilize a shrinking caribou herd, but did nothing to increase its population. The same paper blamed caribou losses across the country on human disruptions to ecosystems.
The B.C. government said habitat recovery is part of its strategy, and that it’s already protected roughly 108,000 hectares of caribou habitat from logging and roadbuilding in the South Selkirk region. It also has a goal of protecting 498,000 hectares in South Peace, though McAllister questioned why the province doesn’t start protecting the habitat now.
“Why haven’t they just done it? We’re decades into the planning,” McAllister said.
Pacific Wild launched a court challenge to B.C.’s cull in January, and said its legal action is ongoing.
The cull, which is scheduled to last another three years, gained international notoriety thanks to attention from celebrities Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson. An online petition calling for its end has been signed more than 216,000 times.
As the province shifts the focus of its wolf cull to the South Peace, an environmental group continues to raise questions about the use of a “Judas wolf” to track and kill the predators during last year’s cull in the South Selkirk Mountains.
The B.C. government says the wolf cull, part of the Caribou Recovery Plan, will help mitigate risks to dwindling caribou populations in both regions.
The Wildlife Defence League (WDL) claims the cull involves a lone radio collared wolf — named after the biblical story of the disciple Judas — that is reportedly left alive and tracked so it can lead hunters to its pack.
“This solitary wolf would be tracked as he instinctively (searches) for a new family, only to be traumatized yet again as his new pack is slaughtered before his eyes,” the League wrote in a a Feb. 27 release.
“The (B.C. government) have publicly stated that their wolf cull is being conducted in a humane manner, but the information uncovered during our field campaign contradicts such a claim.”
The WDL was referring to unconfirmed recordings it released last month of a conversation its operatives had with a worker in the Caribou Recovery Program that described how a so-called “Judas” wolf is used.
In an email exchange with the Alaska Highway News, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations spokesperson Greig Bethel denied the group’s claims.
“The Wildlife Defence League is incorrect,” he wrote. “There was not a lone collared wolf left behind last year as a ‘Judas’ wolf.”
Bethel however did confirm that wolves will be radio collared during the South Peace cull, but that their movements are only being tracked to see if they were entering caribou habitats.
“The ministry is only removing wolves that pose an active threat to endangered mountain caribou,” Bethel wrote. “Radio collars transmit the wolves’ movements and let ministry biologists know whether wolves are in the core caribou habitat.”
On Feb. 23, WDL released audio and transcripts it says prove the government’s use of a Judas wolf.
In the recordings, which Alaska Highway News was not able to independently verify, field operatives with WDL speak to an unnamed man in the South Selkirk region who identifies himself as a retired wildlife patrol guide working on the province’s Caribou Recovery Program.
The man describes the process of how a wolf is radio collared and used to lead hunters to the pack.
“They just left one with a radio collar on and then they can buzz in (and) see if he’s got new recruitment,” he said. “You got a radio collar on it and they know where the one is at and they leave that one with a radio collar to live and now they can come back and (see) OK, he’s got buddies, better take them out.”
Tommy Knowles, campaign director with WDL, said in an email that the group will not be conducting its own investigations in the South Peace as it did in the South Selkirk, because of the “complicated political situation.”
“(The) West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations support the wolf cull,” he wrote. “We recognize that their traditional territory encompasses the area where the cull is taking place and without consent, we didn’t feel like it was right to campaign there.”
Knowles added his organization recognizes the important role caribou play in the traditional culture of Indigenous people in British Columbia.
“Still, we adamantly disagree with the wolf cull as a tactic to recover the endangered herds and believe that only habitat protection and restoration will bring caribou back to sustain a healthy population,” he wrote.
Knowles said despite the government’s stated role in protecting caribou, it has allowed industrial development to “decimate critical caribou habitat.”
The wolf cull is already underway in the South Peace near Chetwynd. The ministry says it will not report the results until the spring.
In late November 2015, Saulteau First Nations Chief Nathan Parenteau told the Alaska Highway News that he supports the cull.
“Moose, caribou, everything is getting hammered by (wolves), ” he said during a signing ceremony with provincial government ministers.
“It’s a matter of balance,” he added. “We’ve put it into an area where it’s unbalanced, now we have to bring that balance back. Part of that may be a cull.”
The wolf cull is entering its second year and is planned to last five years. The cull will be reviewed after four years.
In 2015, the ministry says 73 wolves were removed in the South Peace, short of it’s original goal of 160.
“The original removal goal was an estimate of the maximum number of wolves that might be removed, not a quota,” Bethel wrote.
He said the number of wolves to be removed in 2016 and in future years will depend on how quickly wolves re-populate the areas and how effective the program is.
Bethel says the ministry will not be releasing the name of the contractor it has hired to carry out the wolf cull in the South Peace due to “threats to personal safety of those involved in caribou recovery/wolf removal activities.”
There are seven herds of caribou populations in the South Peace: the Quintette, Moberly, Scott, Kennedy Siding, Burnt Pine, Narraway and Graham.
I find it interesting that Premier Christy Clark would appear before the media touting new rules for puppy mills while wolves are being chased down to exhaustion, then shot at from helicopters by her government’s wildlife officers.
All animals feel pain and these wolf culls are barbaric and unnecessary. Biologists and other experts have proven that wolves are not the cause of the dwindling caribou population, yet they are being culled in two areas of the province.
The citizens of B.C. should be outraged by this and demand this animal abuse be stopped immediately. Any type of animal abuse is not conducive to a moral society.
Salt Spring Island