The public and conservation groups are voicing a mixture of opposition and support for the BC government’s wolf cull that aims to kill 144 to 184 grey wolves in two separate regions.
The cull began in mid-January with aerial sharp shooters in helicopters aiming to kill 24 wolves in the South Selkirks to protect 18 remaining mountain caribou and 144 to 164 in the South Peace areas to protect seven herds totaling 946 to 971 caribou.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ long term goal is to increase the South Selkirk caribou herd to approximately 100 caribou and the South Peace herds to more than 1,200 animals across their range within 21 years, with a target of 2,500 caribou by 2027.
On Feb. 11, resource stewardship assistant deputy minister Tom Ethier told CBC News this winter’s wolf cull is just the beginning of an initiative that will likely continue for another four years.
The $498,000 price tag for 2015 ($150,000 for South Selkirk and $348,000 for South Peace), however, isn’t sitting well with many BC taxpayers.
In email correspondence, the ministry stated feedback from the public since January has been mixed, with a majority of writers opposing the cull, and calling instead for action on habitat protection.
Eighty organizations and individuals have signed an open letter to Premier Christy Clark calling for an immediate cease to the aerial cull, a recovery plan that takes the Species at Risk Act into consideration, and enforces snowmobile closures and opening snowmobile management agreement negotiations for public review.
Pacific Wild collected 178,862 signatures as of Thursday on a petition which calls to put a stop to what the organization calls a “barbaric” wolf kill.
“The BC Liberal government’s ongoing wolf cull program is scientifically indefensible and is clearly a diversionary tactic laid out to ensure the fundamental issue of habitat protection for caribou continues to be ignored,” said Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild.
He went on to say “hundreds of wolves are suffering a needless cruel death right now, funded by our tax dollars and people from around the world are outraged and disgusted about it.”
He said the controversy goes beyond provincial borders.
“In fact, we have never seen such widespread international condemnation regarding a wildlife issue before and it is not going to stop until this kill program is stopped.”
The organization has also surpassed its $50,000 fundraising goal, with $78,329 donated to Pacific Wild’s Indiegogo campaign to provide a full-time employee with the resources “to build local and international public pressure by exposing this wolf kill program as the unethical, inhumane and scientifically indefensible slaughter that it is.”
Valhalla Wilderness Watch’s Craig Pettitt said the society does not support the wolf cull but would like to see greater enforcement of human encroachment in protected areas.
“We’re pushing habitat,” he said.
The Valhalla Wilderness Society lobbied unsuccessfully for the Ministry of Highways to have the 100 km/h speed limit reduced on Highway 3 through the Kootenay Pass, which is “core and critical caribou habitat.”
Pettitt said the amount of ski touring activity in the pass is also an issue. He said the government’s approach is ineffective. “It’s a scapegoat measure, a ‘We’re doing something’ approach.”
West Kootenay EcoSociety executive director David Reid said the society continues to support the cull, but only as an emergency measure to save caribou.
He said a mountain caribou management plan was developed by independent scientists and without the cull, they would disappear.
“People don’t want the wolves killed but it’s a certain death for the 18 mountain caribou in the South Selkirks without the predator management side of the recovery plan at this point.”
The organization would like to see greater emphasis on enforcement of recreational activity — namely snowmobiling — in and around closure zones within caribou habitat as well as a speed limit reduction on the Kootenay Pass.
According to the ministry, from 2000 to 2009, the South Selkirk caribou population increased gradually and there were no known wolf packs established in the area during that time. The herd declined from 46 caribou in 2009 to 27 in 2012, to 18 today.
“The province has taken a variety of other actions to assist at-risk caribou herds, including setting aside key habitat, managing recreation to reduce human disturbance and undertaking maternal penning projects to increase calf survival in endangered herds,” they told the Star in an email.
“Those calling for only habitat protection activities need to recognize these efforts are already underway, but will not be enough on their own.”
For the South Selkirk herd specifically, a significant portion of core caribou habitat has been closed to snowmobile use (61,000 hectares) and almost all core caribou habitat (108,000 hectares) has been protected from industrial development.
“These efforts will continue, but ultimately if we want them to be effective and for at-risk caribou herds to persist, we need to recognize that targeted wolf removal is required now,” the statement said.
In the 2012-13 (the most current publicly posted) mountain caribou recovery implementation plan progress board’s annual report, managing predation was one of several recommendations which included higher compliance needed from heli-ski operators in the Columbia and Purcells, cameras being installed to measure compliance of snowmobilers and a redesign of the second phase of caribou transplanting to the area.
By March 2013 it was apparent that efforts to transplant 19 mountain caribou a year earlier was unsuccessful as only two remained alive.
The last report reviewing the Purcell Mountain caribou transplant, dated July 2013, concluded that “in spite of the number of mortalities that have occurred post-release, a transplant remains the best hope to avoid extirpation of the Purcells South herd.”
Transplanted Mountain Caribou cause of death as of July 10, 2013
- 6 due to cougar predation
- 2 due to wolf predation
- 3 due to accidents
- 3 from unknown but confirmed non-predation causes
- 2 from unknown causes, predation not ruled out
- 1 from malnutrition (weakened by ticks)
The report said six collared cougars in the study area were staying below the caribou habitat at the time.
Four wolves were collared but each collar ceased to function. “Most of the predation-related mortalities occurred when transplanted caribou moved into low elevation areas not considered suitable mountain caribou habitat,” the summary read.
Following the observed mortality rate from the initial transplant, the report recommended deferring the second phase of the transplant to 2015. “Logistical planning continues for a second phase of the transplant, including a review of all aspects of the project. In particular, the donor herd and release methods are being reviewed.”
The government adopted its mountain caribou recovery program in 2007.
According to the ministry website, “The decline of this ecotype is proximally due to high mortality linked to predation and disturbance in the short-term. In the long-term, mountain caribou are threatened by habitat fragmentation, alteration and loss of old growth forest.”