As many as 184 wolves must be shot in British Columbia, Canada, in order to save the caribou, according to a statement from the provincial government. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced plans on January 15 to address what they consider the threat of wolf predation in the areas of the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace, along the border of US states Washington and Idaho.
The caribou, one of Canada’s most recognized national symbols, “is at high risk of local extinction,” according to the ministry’s statement.
The government claims the South Selkirk caribou population declined from 46 in 2009 to just 18 as of March 2014, adding that “evidence points to wolves being the leading cause of mortality.”
The ministry further cites a joint-research project between officials from British Colombia, Washington and Idaho states, First Nations, the US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which found wolves killed two of the remaining caribou in the past 10 months.
Authorities also claim that in the area of South Pearce, inhabited by four caribou herds, at least 37 percent of all “adult [caribou] mortalities have been documented as wolf predation.”
In order to “remove” the wolves from these areas, the government will deploy “trained sharpshooters” to shoot the animals from a helicopter. The operation will cost over US$500,000.
This latest wolf cull follows the killing of more than 1,000 wolves in the forests of Alberta, between 2005 and 2012, in an attempt to protect 100 caribou living there.
However, while the wolf hunt in Alberta stabilized caribou numbers in the region, it did not result in a population increase, according to a study published in November 2014 in the Canadian Journal of Zoology
The War on Wolves
Ian McAllister, conservation director for Pacific Wild, believes the government’s focus on wolves ignores the real issue concerning the caribou’s habitat.
“While the government is not moving forward to protect adequate amounts of habitat to save the caribou, they’re instead using wolves as a scapegoat and planning just a horrific level of aerial killing in the coming months,” McAllister said. “This is truly a war on wolves in British Columbia.”
McAllister, who started an online petition against the cull, told local newspaper the Province that the fundamental threat to caribou is human encroachment and the destruction of their natural environment.
“Killing every single wolf in this province will not save those caribou. But they’re killing wolves anyway. The wolves are being used as scapegoats.”
Moreover, McAllister argues that the government’s wolf cull violates the guidelines set forth by the Canadian Council on Animal Care regarding wild animal euthanasia.
According to the guidelines, the only “acceptable methods” for animal euthanasia produce “death with minimal pain and distress when used on conscious or sedated animals.”
“There’s no way they can kill that many wolves without missing shots and injuring animals,” McAllister told the Province. “You will have wounded wolves returning to ripped-apart family units … their suffering will be extreme.”
“Foolish and Inhumane”
David Shellenberger, a self-described advocate of international liberty and animal welfare, told the PanAm Post that the mass killing of wolves in British Columbia is typical of the government’s treatment of wolves and other predators.
“States almost always serve themselves and their cronies,” said Shellenberger. “When it comes to wolves, this means doing the bidding of the hunting and livestock industries. Governments also fear monger regarding wolves, exploiting ignorance and prejudice.”
Shellenberger further explained that wolves benefit prey species, including caribou, and argued that they are “essential to the general ecological health of habitats.”
“The decline of caribou,” he states, “is the result of government’s mismanagement of land; it is not the fault of wolves. Killing wolves is foolish and inhumane. Wolves are not only ecologically essential, but also intrinsically and economically valuable.”
There are more efficient ways to preserve caribou herds, says Shellenberger, without sacrificing other species. “The long-range answer for the health of the caribou population is better stewardship of land, ideally through the government giving ownership to conservation organizations or creating a trust structure.”
“An immediate possible answer,” he added, “is the farming of caribou.”
Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.