On January 15, helicopters lifted into the skies over British Columbia’s South Selkirk and South Peace regions to start the killing of wolves. The goal is to limit the wolves’ predation on dwindling interior caribou herds, the populations of which have dropped to critical levels. Between 2009 and 2014, the South Selkirk herd dropped from 46 to just 18 animals. The government is spending up to two million dollars on the operation to shoot and kill wolves from the air.
The “cull” was announced as 180 wolves, but assistant deputy minister of the Resource Stewardship Division of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Tom Ethier, says that the cull will likely be a five year project. “At the end of those five years, we’re going to do that analysis as to whether this effort was worth it.”
Ian McAllister, wildlife photographer and founder of the conservation group Pacific Wild, agrees the caribou face a dire predicament. But he disagrees that killing wolves is the way to save them.
“The fundamental threat to caribou is human encroachment and destruction of their habitat,” says McAllister. “The government is not moving forward to protect adequate amounts of habitat to save the caribou, they’re instead using wolves as a scapegoat.”
“We cannot allow the culling of a species to become a standard wildlife management tool in BC. We also believe that the hunt is breaking the government’s own animal cruelty laws. It states that animals must be inspected after being shot to ensure they are dead and not wounded – but we know that these helicopters are unable to land in most areas where the wolves are being hunted.”
The government says it is deploying “trained sharpshooters” to ensure the wolves are humanely killed, not just injured.
McAllister doesn’t buy it. “There’s no way they can kill that many wolves without missing shots and injuring animals,” he said. “You will have wounded wolves returning to ripped-apart family units. These are intelligent animals with strong social bonds and their suffering will be extreme.”
Since 2005, the Canadian government has shot nearly 1,000 wolves to protect a herd of threatened boreal caribou in the forests of Alberta. But a recent study suggests that this approach has limited benefit.
It is enough to keep the population of caribou from shrinking further, but it will not allow the animals – a geographically distinct population of Rangifer tarandus, known in Europe as reindeer – to increase their number, finds the November analysis published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. That would require placing new limits on industrial development in Alberta.
Vahalla Wilderness Watch states that “the South Selkirk herd crashed to 25-30 animals in the early 1970s, when wolves were virtually extirpated from the area .… When BC and Idaho began to talk about recovering the herd in the mid-1980s, it had an estimated 13 animals, and there was no mention by either government of wolves being the cause. Government biologists said the main predators were cougars. Even BC’s 2008 Mountain Caribou Recovery Plan mentioned only ‘cougar management’ as predator control for the area.”
Since the announcement to cull wolves, thousands of letters and emails have been sent and Ministry phone lines have been busy with people expressing their outrage. Over 170,000 people have signed Pacific Wild’s petition opposing the wolf kill and people are donating to their Indiegogo campaign. The money is being used to support ground crews documenting the kill program, and for an ad campaign to bring this issue front and centre to British Columbians.
The hope is that someday wolves will receive the level of protection such highly social and intelligent animals deserve. For now, helicopters are flying in the sky and with the aid of satellite tracking collars (placed on the wolves a year ago by the BC government), packs of wolves will be shot and may be left to die a cruel and inhumane death.
Susan MacVittie is managing editor of the Watershed Sentinel and is grateful to have viewed wolves via Pacific Wild’s live feed cameras. www.pacificwild.org