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B.C.'s controversial wolf cull program to save caribou will continue

Researchers from the University of Northern B.C. and the province say five herds are collapsing even though the government is pursuing a recovery strategy.

Courtesy of Elena Jones

British Columbia's controversial wolf control program will have to go on for at least a decade, and other animals may also have to be killed if the province's endangered caribou herds are to be saved, government advisory documents say.

The program, in which 84 wolves were shot from helicopters in its first phase this winter, had no time frame when it was announced last January, but was described as a "multiyear" project that was scientifically based.

However, Ministry of Environment documents describe the wolf kill program as an "experimental" effort that might not work because resource development has affected caribou habitat so severely.

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"The effectiveness of wolf control to improve caribou population growth has not been demonstrated in these herds, so there is some chance that the programs will not be effective," says a document released on the government's open-information website in response to a Freedom of Information request.

"To maximize the probability of success, the wolf reduction should be very intensive over the entire area and there must be a financial commitment to keep the program going for at least a decade," it says. "Ultimately, as long as the habitat conditions on and adjacent to caribou ranges remain heavily modified by industrial activities, it is unlikely that any self-sustaining caribou populations will be able to exist in the South Peace [region]."

The document cautions that killing wolves could lead to increased numbers of moose and other game animals, which could attract more wolf packs to the region.

"Therefore, liberalized hunting for moose, elk and deer should be instituted within the treatment area," states the document, which calls for the shooting of 100 to 166 wolves each year.

Included in the information release was a review of the program provided to B.C. by Dave Hervieux, the provincial caribou management co-ordinator for the Alberta government.

Mr. Hervieux advises the B.C. government to attract wolves into open areas by shooting moose or elk from aircraft, rather than setting out road-kill carcasses, as the B.C. program proposed.

And he suggested putting radio collars on some wolves to track the movement of packs. The B.C. government had been doing this.

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"Collaring of wolves may also allow management activities to occur in association with wolf den sites," Mr. Hervieux wrote, suggesting wolves could be near dens, where they go to birth pups.

He also recommended shooting cougars.

B.C. government officials said in an e-mail Mr. Hervieux's advice had not been followed.

"No management activities are occurring at wolf den sites, and no wolf pups have been killed under the management program," a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said. "The wolf removal was conducted during winter months so that the wolves are easier to track in the snow. Denning season does not begin until the spring."

The statement also said only road-kill carcasses were used to bait wolves, and "cougar predation is being managed through liberal hunting seasons within caribou recovery areas."

Stan Boutin of the University of Alberta reviewed the wolf plan for the B.C. government and reported he "found no issues" with the overall strategy.

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"It is clear that unless there is an immediate reduction in the loss of caribou to predation, recovery is not likely," he wrote in a report to the province. "There are only two possible ways to achieve this; removal of predators or protection of caribou from predators by use of maternity pens or large scale fences."

The government tried a maternity penning program for caribou last year with mixed results. Although nine calves were reared and released, three of the calves and one of the adult females were killed soon after by wolves.

Sadie Parr, director of Wolf Awareness Inc., said the B.C. wolf kill is misguided and a better way to help caribou recover is by protecting and restoring caribou habitat.

"It's horrific," she said of the wolf kill.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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