Conservation group Wolf Awareness has submitted a petition calling for the the B.C. government to end annual wolf culls.
“Wolves didn’t put caribou in this terrible situation. We did,” said Sadie Parr, executive director of Wolf Awareness, which is based in Golden, B.C.
The petition has over 3,000 signatures from across B.C., and was submitted to the province in November.
The aerial wolf management program was introduced in 2015 and was scheduled for five years. So far, 527 wolves have been killed province-wide. The program included the Revelstoke area in 2017. Since then, 29 wolves have been killed north of the city.
“I am extremely concerned that my tax dollars are funding an inhumane wildlife program that is being done under the guise of conservation,” said Parr.
Since 2015, wolves have been destroyed in the South Selkirks to help caribou. This winter there are only two females caribou left in that herd. Those two along with the four remaining in the South Purcell herd will be netted and taken to a rearing pen north of Revelstoke. The South Selkirk herd is the last herd that migrates back and forth between Canada and the U.S. Soon, there will be no caribou in the contiguous United States.
They will be extinct.
“This is where I get shivers and I get scared because it seems to me that society is witnessing this extinction. It’s death by a million cuts,” said Parr.
According to Wildsafe B.C. there are approximately 8,500 wolves in B.C and the B.C. government says that number is increasing.
The province wrote in an email to the Revelstoke Review that the wolf cull is benefiting three herd areas: Moberly, Quintette near Tumbler Ridge and Kennedy Siding, located 25 kilometres southeast of Mackenzie, B.C. All three are increasing whereas they were previously declining.
However, Parr questions the province’s claims on herds increasing in population. She says it’s possible that some herds are merging together and therefore appear to be increasing in size.
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development wolves are the leading cause of caribou mortality, with about 40 per cent of investigated adult caribou deaths relating to wolves.
The B.C. government also states that the forestry sector has a significant impact on caribou habitat.
Parr said conserving habitat is more important for caribou. Much more so than killing other wildlife.
“We know what’s bad for caribou. Yet, we’re continuing to develop in areas that have been identified as critical for caribou.”
For example, Imperial Metals is developing a zinc-lead mine near Upper Seymour Provincial Park, which is in caribou habitat. Since May, the B.C. government has also approved 83 logging cut blocks in caribou habitat.
Critics of the provincial government say not enough old growth forest is being protected.
“Old growth is essential for caribou,” said Virgina Thompson, a Revelstoke local that worked on previous caribou recovery plans.
Old growth forests not only provides lichen, which is the main food source for caribou, but also protection against predators.
Particularly in Revelstoke, old growth protection is lacking, according to Thompson.
“Instead, we’ve had a blood bath.”
|The wolf management program has killed 527 wolves province-wide. (File)|
The B.C. government says the wolf management program is necessary to ensure caribou’s survival. Caribou in B.C. have declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today. There are 54 herds provincewide, 30 of which are at risk of extinction and 14 have fewer than 25 animals.
The province has committed $27 million to the Caribou Recovery Program that aims to recover and conserve woodland caribou. The program aims to release a final paper by the end of the year.
Parr says she hopes that predator control will not be included in a new recovery plan for caribou.
“What we’re doing is wrong. Killing hundreds of one species to benefit another is unethical.”
Parr said the province must go beyond culls.
“Ethics aside. Kill all the wildlife you like. It’s not just about saving caribou on the landscape. It should be about preserving functioning ecosystems. Wolves are a smoke screen.”
It’s important to note that wolves are not the only predator of caribou.
A recent study by the University of Victoria says it can be problematic focusing heavily on wolf management as it can leave caribou extremely vulnerable to other predators, such as black bears and coyotes.
To make predator control truly successful governments would have to kill all predators says Parr.
The province notes that killing wolves can increase other prey species, such as moose and deer, which can in turn result in even more wolves.
However, the B.C. government wrote in an email that it’s being mitigated by increasing hunting allowances.
They continued that the wolf management program is only a short term solution.
Thompson said there’s no way the predator control program in Revelstoke can be short term.
“We need the habitat to go along with it.”
While caribou have been declining for decades, there’s been little government policy.
However, Parr expects that to soon change with the federal government. Under the Species at Risk Act the Canadian government could take action, such as further restrict industrial development if they think the provincial government is failing to protect caribou.
One of the hurdles to protecting caribou is potential economic harm. Parr said that is probably one of the reasons why any government has failed to act. And if so, it’s time to be honest about it.
“If we’re allowing the economy to trump species preservation and ecosystems then at least let us be honest about that. And stop killing other species under this false pretense of saving caribou.”
Thompson couldn’t agree more.
“We don’t want to give anything up. We just keep killing.”