Wildlife Management: When Forest Wails and Mourns

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

“Just as ships’ bottoms pick up layers of barnacles over time, so, through their lives, human societies and individuals become encrusted with layers of cultural and ideological sediment. … The cemented coating clings as though chemically bonded to me and screams bloody bloody murder at my slightest advance…”~John Livingston

Awar on wildlife in British Columbia never ends; cruelty goes on, unabated. We cannot unshackle ourselves from the self-centered belief system — the thickened layer of barnacles — that destines us to view nature as a resource subordinate to our needs. When, in 1981, John Livingston wrote “Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation”, he cautioned against the fallacy of turning the Earth’s fabric into a “natural resource”. It was echoed by Neil Evernden who recognized that, once deemed a resource, nature inevitably becomes a casualty of reckless exploitation. And this is what has happened. Under the guise of fostering “conservation”, we have concocted a management approach that gives us a license to discard a delicate assembly of life as if it were a lump of coal.

The decades-long tragedy of the caribou habitat is a proof, as good any, of cruelty and travesty inherent to current wildlife management strategies. What strikes the most is how long it has lasted. In the 1970s, a biologist, Michael Bloomfield, showed that the widespread destruction of the habitat by logging and other resource development activities threatened caribou survival. These warnings were never listened to. The B.C. government has allowed for the destruction of the habitat to continue, and the caribou population dwindled from 40,000 in the early 1900s to approximately 15,000 today, all scattered among 54 herds. Thirty of those herds are at risk of extinction and 14 have fewer than 25 individuals.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

This is the current reality. With impunity grounded in political support — regardless of a party in power — the industrial encroachment fragments the caribou habitat and decimates their food source. Consequently, chances for the survival of the caribou diminish as their habitat shrinks in size. The resilience of nature is no match for greed and political expediency. A cycle of life gets broken. What is worse, the officially sanctioned ecological devastation not only ensures the eventual disappearance of the caribou but sentences to death wolves, cougars, and many other species that depend on the same habitat.

Death comes in many forms, and, for some animals, anguish and agony mark the path. The fate that wolves suffer shows most glaringly the tragedy that befalls nature when the government gives in to demands of the resource-extraction industry. In 2014, the B.C. government, with its Management Plan for the Grey Wolf, authorized the war on wolves. Since 2015, under the guise of caribou conservation, over 700 wolves have been killed. They were trapped, hunted, poisoned to death, gunned down from helicopters. Even more abhorrently, extermination tactics have used “Judas wolves” to find their packs and wipe out all of their members. But this not where the war against the wolf ends. The stated number does not include “wolf whacking” contests that take place in the interior of B.C. — an officially sanctioned bestiality that not only dooms wild animals but debases us, as human beings.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

And, yet, even this is not enough. Now, the NDP government argues that “landscape scale habitat management is needed to support self-sustaining caribou populations”. It thus proposes a predator hunt legislation that would — in the name of reversing caribou population declines — erase more than 80 percent of the wolf population in parts of the central B.C. In other words, it would get rid of the “surplus” of wolves. To call this wildlife management approach fallacious and unethical is to be greatly euphemistic. The innocuously sounding phrase — “landscape scale habitat management” — camouflages an outright slaughter.

And it is the slaughter compounded by ecological ignorance. Any discussion about maintaining stable wolf populations — an underlying premise behind the predator hunt legislation — defeats its purpose if the exact number of wolves in a habitat remains unknown. As so is the case here. The Management Plan for the Grey Wolf states that the wolf population might be approximately 8,500. In reality, this number can be anywhere between 5,300 and 11,600, since, as the plan admits, estimating the population size is challenging due to the secretive nature of wolves, their extensive range, and the density of forested habitats they inhabit. Moreover, hunting data in B.C. lack reliability. The plan states that there is “considerable uncertainty in the current take of wolves by resident hunters and trappers as B.C. does not have a mandatory reporting system…[and] without more reliable estimates of the harvest, it is difficult to assess the sustainability of BC’s wolf harvest.” This ignorance does not, however, prevent the government, Max Foran states, from accepting “generous hunting quotas, no limit on killing females or pups, no bag-limit zones, long and sometimes open year-round hunting seasons, no license requirement for residents.” This is not management but a “wolf killing plan”, he writes.

Killing that will never stop. The ministry’s scientists claim that “a very extensive effort will be required every year to continue to keep the wolf population low” because of the wolf’s natural resilience and quick recovery. Like stubborn weeds, wolves must be eradicated repeatedly. This malignancy cannot be allowed to grow.

Unfortunately, the cruelty and the bureaucratic cold-heartedness underpinning this statement account for merely a part of its tragic perversity. However inhumane, the perpetual killing of wolves is based on the premise that, following a bout of slaughter, the species is able to recover. Only an unfounded human hubris would allow for such a premise to sustain itself. The so-called “surplus” of wolves is very fragile in the face of climate change, and wolves are vulnerable to the unpredictable ecosystem dynamics. Precariousness and unpredictability are the words that define a broad range of interdependences in the critical caribou habitat. The social-ecological system operates on various scales– some of them observable and some not — and there are tipping points, the crossing of which takes us into a place of no return. After all, we live in the times of a rapid environmental change where the only certain expectation is uncertainty. That is why the “managed” killing of predators is a callous misnomer that is bound to unleash not only savagery but also unknown ecological ramifications.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

Still, numerical variations in the wolf population, as well as both known and unknown ecological consequences of their repeated slaughter, do not tell the whole story. What remains hidden from all of us, living far away from the land of the wolf, is individual suffering to which, through our political indifference, we implicitly consent. What we do not see is paralyzing anguish, pain, and psychological trauma that comes in the aftermath of the shattered family structure. Death destroys even those who survive. After a killing spree is temporarily over, surviving wolves return to mourn a loss. They also face a world unknown to them. As Marc Bekoff and Sadie Parr write, “those individuals that survive to make new wolf families must do so without access to the knowledge and culture held by their slain family members, something that takes generations to build. They become refugees on their own land.”

Finally, this is not only about the caribou or the wolf, but also about us, humans. Perceiving nature through the prism of its cruel and ignorant management comes at a price that we will have to pay. Destroying wolves destroys us as a society. It diminishes us. Our appreciation of and compassion for the natural world have evolved throughout centuries and molded into moral and ethical principles. We break these principles at our peril.

It is time to start peeling layers of “cultural and ideological” sediment we wrapped ourselves in. The cemented coating that clings to us offers the comfort of familiarity, but it is a false comfort that chips away at our humanity. The main argument for killing wolves in the caribou habitat is ensuring that the caribou will still be there, in the future. So our children and their children can watch them roam the forest. Given the ongoing destruction of the habitat, it will not happen no matter how many wolves we decide to shoot. But even if the demise of the caribou were to be somehow temporarily postponed by the merciless “recovery” plan, what then? Should we tell our children how many generations of wolves we have killed to accomplish this? Should we tell them that they what they see is the legacy of killing fields?

PLEASE TAKE ACTION:

In British Columbia:

  1. Support Pacific Wild campaign “Save BC Wolves” at https://pacificwild.org/campaign/save-bc-wolves/
  2. Support Wolf Awareness campaign at https://www.wolfawareness.org
  3. Support Wildlife Defence League campaign at https://www.wildlifedefenceleague.org/mountain-caribou
  4. Write and Send letters to:

Premier John Horgan — Premier@gov.bc.ca
Minister Doug Donaldson — FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Darcy Peel — Director, BC Caribou Recovery Program caribou.recovery@gov.bc.ca

Please also help wolves In Ontario:

“The Ford government wants wolves and coyotes to pay the price for declining moose populations in Ontario. By re-opening a proposal abandoned by the previous government after it was outed as being unscientific and unethical, the PCs are trying to liberalize the hunting of both wolves and coyotes across northern Ontario.”

Comment by September 26th at http://earthroots.good.do/wolf/huntingcomment/?fbclid=IwAR08lwxns1Z0hw5tnc_uBZ5M9y6syqKQwWy5u48mkT0S2A1mOBZ6Zz2Pn_0

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