Course:CONS200/2019/The Economic and Social Impacts of British Columbia Wolf Cull
The government of British Columbia released its Wolf Management Plan Report in January of 2015. The 5-year plan aims to reduce the provincial wolf population in order to allow for the recovery of threatened populations such as caribou from wolf predation.
Since the release of the report, the plan has been the subject of significant controversy. Many groups claim that there is no scientific evidence to support the plan and that, in fact, the plan will not help the struggling caribou population. One of the largest threats to caribou in BC is habitat degradation and conservationists argue that if habitats are not protected from the oil and logging industries, the purpose of the wolf cull is made irrelevant. Others, like famed conservationist Ian McAllister, fight the wolf cull because “the plan doesn't recognize the profound ecological role the animals play in B.C" .
Closely following the announcement in January, the government began to implement the plan, killing 84 wolves in the South Peace and South Selkirk regions. Increased development in these areas has opened up areas in the backcountry, allowing wolves to more easily track caribou herds. As a result, both these locations have experienced sharply decreasing caribou populations, a large percentage of which is due to predation by wolves. The cull will continue each winter over the 5-year period until the effectiveness of the plan can be evaluated and decisions on the future of wolf management in British Columbia can be made.
History of Wolf Culling in Western Canada
Attempts to control wolves to reduce predation risks on caribou has been a provincial priority since 2001. Wolf densities have been reduced: however, at this time, a correlation between reduced wolf densities and caribou recovery cannot be substantiated.
The Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) released its Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan in 2005 prescribing wolf culling in order to help in the recovery of caribou populations. Beginning in the winter of 2005 and continuing until 2007, a killing program took place, during which wolves living in caribou habitat were shot from helicopters. In order to maintain and control wolf populations the SRD has suggested an annual removal of a maximum of 1200 wolves through hunting and trapping. The BC government claims to have protected 2.2 million hectares in the South Peace region for the endangered caribou herds, but conservationists argue that there is little evidence that some of the most important habitat large intact areas of old-growth forest at low and mid-elevations on gentle slopes has been protected. 'Much of that habitat type has been lost or fragmented with roads, cutblocks, cutline and pipelines,' says Roessingh, which is the lead cause of caribou decline. Wolves are suspected to account for an estimated 40 percent of caribou predation, with cougars and grizzlies likely taking up the balance. Their fieldwork demonstrated that active logging is taking place in caribou recovery areas. The Program is also directly removing wolves in four locations: South Peace, South Selkirk, Columbia North and Narraway.
Decline in Caribou Populations
Biologists have also noticed increased wolf signs in the area referring to Vancouver Island on mainland B.C. and in Alberta, wolf culls are used to protect rapidly declining caribou populations although the practice is seen as controversial when not paired with aggressive habitat protections. Caribou recovery is mandated from the federal government under the Species at Risk Act in the last century, the caribou population in B.C. decreased from 40,000 animals to about 15,000. Climate change and habitat disturbance are key factors of this decline. Other caribou populations in the region continue to be seriously threatened. Those populations are either declining or have been stabilised at very low numbers that are unlikely to be sustainable in the absence of meaningful and effective action by the federal and provincial governments.
The mountain caribou is a unique type of woodland caribou that used to roam over vast areas of the Northwest United States and Southeastern Canada. This caribou population has dropped over 27 percent in the last 20 years, leaving approximately 1,700 individuals in 15 herds, with 99 percent of the caribou living in British Columbia. Krista Roessingh of Pacific Wild explains that mountain caribou depend upon undisturbed old growth forests for food and shelter. The caribou can’t co-exist with industry, she says. Yet habitat has been destroyed at a rapacious rate. Logging appears to be the primary cause of habitat destruction, but other industries such as coal mining, oil and gas exploration, as well as wind energy development have all contributed to a 66 percent drop in mountain caribou habitat in the South Peace region alone.
These caribou are also incredibly sensitive creatures, and they’ve been known to place up to 18 kilometres between themselves and industrial sites, which means the zone of influence of these industries is far greater than their physical footprint. Noise pollution that’s been scientifically linked to increased stress in caribou, resulting in poor body condition, behavioural changes, and low calf production. Breaking the forest up into small patches changes the caribou’s movement patterns, makes them more vulnerable to predation, and last but not least, encourages interbreeding. Small, isolated herds have lower genetic diversity and resilience, making them vulnerable to a host of problems. 
Past Management Plans and Policies
On the 17th of April in 2014 the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations released the Province’s wolf management plan.
The plan fully recognizes that the fundamental goal of wolf management in British Columbia, as with all other provincial game species, is to maintain self-sustaining populations throughout the species’ range. The plan proposes a two-zone management strategy approach:
- In most areas, wolf management will be concerned with ensuring that wolves continue to serve their ecological role as a top predator. Sustainable hunting and trapping opportunities will use controls on harvest through specified season lengths and bag limits.
- In areas of livestock depredation or wildlife populations threatened by wolf predation (e.g., mountain caribou) are a concern, the plan commits government to responsibly helping stakeholders, ranchers and First Nations manage the impacts of expanding wolf populations. In these areas, detailed implementation plans would be developed before any actions are undertaken.
The wolf management plan, like other species management plans, summarises the best available scientific information on the biology and threats to the species and informs the development of a management framework. It sets goals and objectives, and recommends approaches appropriate for species or ecosystem conservation. The plan indicates wolf populations are likely stable or increasing throughout the province and are not considered an ‘at-risk’ species. The current wolf population estimate is approximately 8,500 which is similar to an earlier estimate of 8,100 in 1991. The last wolf management plan was prepared in 1979, and the new plan provides a substantive update in the science guiding the conservation and management of wolves.
On mainland B.C. and in Alberta, wolf culls are used to protect rapidly declining caribou populations although the practice is seen as controversial when not paired with aggressive habitat protections. According to the ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Development, the South Selkirk, South Peace and North Columbia area caribou herds are in dire straits. The province’s plan for those regions is to eliminate all wolves in an effort to protect caribou that remain. A minimum of 80 per cent of the wolves in the treatment area need to be removed and ideally all wolves will be taken, the ministry said in a statement. Around 250 wolves have been shot from helicopters over the last two years as part of the province’s wolf cull pilot project, which is in the fourth year of its project five-year lifespan.
Current Management Framework
The Wolf Management Plan Report was released in January of 2015 by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations with the goal of managing wolf populations in order to support the recovery of certain species.
Over a period of five years, beginning in 2015, wolves will be killed in the South Selkirk region in Southern B.C. and in the South Peace region of Northern B.C. . The cull will allow endangered populations, particularly caribou herds, a chance to recover. In the spring, individuals in wolf packs, nicknamed ‘Judas wolves’, will be radio-collared . These packs will then be tracked in the winter, when the conditions make the packs easier to track. Once located, the wolves will be shot by snipers in helicopters. The number of wolves killed each season will be determined based on how quickly they repopulate areas they have been removed from. The effectiveness of the program will be reviewed after a five-year period and a revised plan will be released by the B.C. government in the spring of 2019.
Though habitat destruction due to human activity is the primary threat to caribou populations, predation makes it difficult for any recovery efforts to be successful. Stan Boutin, a professor at the University of Alberta, who reviewed the plan for the B.C. government, supported the proposed actions, saying “unless there is an immediate reduction in the loss of caribou to predation, recovery is not likely”. The limiting of predation can be achieved through either the removal of predators or using large scale fencing to protect caribou from predators. The second strategy was attempted in 2014, which allowed for 9 calves to be reared, however, upon release, 3 calves and one adult female were killed by wolves. Both these strategies continued to be used in B.C. through the Wolf Management Plan.
In 2017, three years into the five-year program, the decline of caribou populations had slowed in the South Peace region. However, it is unclear what role the wolf cull has played in this recovery. Though the effectiveness of predator control cannot be conclusively determined until the program has finished, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, initial indications have shown that the cull appears to be successful.
This trend continued into 2018. With only a year remaining in the plan, caribou herds continue to stabilize in the South Peace region. Populations in the area have even increased by 7-15% annually.
Despite the government being uncertain about the effectiveness of the program in helping caribou populations recover, the program will result in the death of almost 500 wolves and will cost taxpayers approximately 2.2 million dollars.
Habitat degradation is the root cause of the decline in caribou populations, but little has been done to target this issue. The decision to implement the wolf cull as opposed to targeting habitat protection is likely based off of economic and political factors. At a federal level, the caribou are recognized as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which requires the protection of any critical habitat, however, there is no legislation enforcing this at a provincial level, allowing the B.C. government to continue industrial activity in caribou habitat Additionally, reducing habitat degradation would require limiting industrial activity by forestry and oil companies which would be incredibly costly and negatively impact the B.C. economy.
Despite little evidence backing it, the Wolf Management Plan offers a less costly alternative in helping prey population recovery, and as the wolf cull continues, there has been little to no decrease in industrial activities in caribou habitat.
Perspectives on the Wolf Cull
Several BC environmental organizations have voiced their opposition towards the wolf cull. These efforts have been spearheaded by several groups, including the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Pacific Wild and Valhalla Wilderness Society, many of whom have launched campaigns opposing the cull.
Pacific Wild has voiced their concerns about the wolf culling loud and clear, stating that the government of British Columbia has failed to address the main causes of the declining caribou populations, that being lack of protection or restoration of their native habitats, and disease and forest fires. They also view the government's preferred method of culling as inhumane, as it involves shooting the wolves from helicopters, leaving them to suffer and die slowly due to the inaccuracies of the shots.
The Wildlife Defence League shares similar views to Pacific Wild, agreeing that the reasoning behind killing these predators is misguided. In their campaign, named "Never Cry Wolf", they advocate against the wolf cull, stating that the blame for declining caribou populations should be placed on the industries that affect their numbers the most - that being the ranching, hunting and natural resource industries of B.C..
These environmental organizations also have voiced that there is no scientifically sound evidence to prove that culling wolves will slow the decline of caribou populations. Many have called it an "experiment" gone wrong. Pacific Wild has referenced a study on wolf culling in Alberta that determined that their wolf culling program did not result in any increase in caribou populations, calling for the use of protection programs if culling was also to be used.
Notable Individual Opposers
One famous singer in particular has taken a stand against the BC wolf cull after her visit to the Great Bear Rainforest - Miley Cyrus. After her visit, which was in cooperation with Pacific Wild, she took to social media to protest the wolf culling and to share a petition created by Pacific Wild in regards to the culling, which garnered lots of attention towards this issue and boosted the signatures on the petition greatly.
In the book Never Cry Wolf by famous Canadian author Farley Mowat, he voices his opinion on the public perception of wolves in Canada, believing that “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be – the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of our self.”. Despite this book being published in 1963, environmental organizations such as the Wildlife Defence League utilize Mowat’s arguments and quotes in their campaigns. Wildlife Defence League has even named their wolf culling awareness campaign “Never Cry Wolf” in association with this book.
Several famous conservationists have also made their opposing opinions of the wolf cull public, including the head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Paul Watson, who stated that "There's no scientific evidence behind this. Wolves and their prey are very important and essential part of the ecosystem and we are constantly disrupting it."The founder of Pacific Wild, Ian McCallister, views the wolf cull as “one of the most inhumane things humans could commit in the natural world,”.
In recent years, the rapid decline of caribou populations and other species has reshaped the First Nations’ values of wolf populations in the British Columbian and Albertan territories. Many indigenous groups have voiced their opinions in support of a wolf cull in order to prevent the extinction of these local species. First Nations in northeast British Columbia stressed urgency over the threatened herds of the Southern Mountain Caribou, a species that has immense cultural value to their people. Nathan Parenteau, Chief of the Saulteau First Nations, expressed his concerns for affected species, arguing that “‘Moose, caribou, everything is getting hammered by [wolves]’”. Government authorities have responded to this ecological crisis in an effort to meet the needs of the indigenous communities by implementing policies, to prevent wolf populations from causing further damage. George Heyman, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, acknowledged that an alliance between the Canadian government and First Nations was necessary in order to approach a possible solution. Heyman referenced the wolf cull, and confirmed, “We intend to work in partnership with Indigenous Governments and the federal government to immediately reverse the decline in caribou and restore Indigenous people’s faith in responsible, sustainable resource management in B.C”.  Ken Cameron, a Chief of the Saulteau tribe, affirmed, “Our First Nations are united and our plans to protect the caribou are clear and strong. Our approach is based on our traditional knowledge of the herds and the landscape. That is why we have been successful. We are now calling on other governments to honour the Treaty promises made to our people by taking the immediate and long-term actions necessary to save these caribou herds”. 
Several environmental organizations have also chosen to support the B.C. wolf cull, including Wildsight and Conservation Northwest. These groups believe that while the culling is not an ideal situation, nor a proper solution, it will help to buy time for the mountain caribou and give their habitats a chance at restoration and protection in order to save the species from extinction, calling it a “short-term, desperate strategy”. They agree that the culling of wolves may not be able to bring back caribou numbers, but that in the long run, “the wolves will come back, the caribou will not.”, choosing to take the risk and attempt to save these animals.
Government of B.C.
The Government of B.C. created the wolf culling campaign, and thus has shown unwavering support for it, stating that the killing of 200 wolves per year is justified in order to save the mountain caribou populations of the province. When asked about their reasoning behind the creation of the wolf cull program in an interview with the Globe and Mail, the Ministry of Lands was unavailable to provide a response, but sent the email response from a biologist from the University of Alberta, Stan Boutin, who agreed with the government plan. Boutin's support of the program arose from a review of the program, and he stated that the program seems to be "part of a broader recovery plan that also includes important measures to protect and recover habitat." Boutin has argued that wolf population control is an effective method for assisting in the protection of mountain caribou populations due the affordability and simplicity of this method as opposed to habitat protection and restoration, hence why he supports the government in the wolf culling initiative.
The latest British Columbia wolf culling program has been one riddled with controversy and debate, pitting conservation groups, First Nations communities, governments, and even celebrities at odds with each other. The 5 year long wolf culling program created by the B.C. provincial government has resulted in the death of around 100 wolves every year since 2015, in an attempt to help revive the dwindling numbers of mountain caribou that remain in B.C. Economically, the culling of wolves is more feasible than habitat restoration and protection projects for the government. Environmentally, it appears as though the wolf culling has done little to maintain or improve mountain caribou populations in B.C., except in several areas, where populations have appeared to increase. However, wolves are vital to the ecosystems of B.C., and if these extermination tactics continue, conservationists worry about their numbers and population viability as well.
This issue has been highly controversial during the past five years, and although the government has supported it throughout, there are many questions to be raised about the future of wolf culling in B.C. once this program comes to a close in 2019.
Suggested Management Framework
It is suggested that the culling of wolves only be resorted to as a last-ditch tactic when endangered prey populations, such as caribou, cannot be saved in any other way. However, the government of B.C. should focus more funding on creating healthier habitats through protection and restoration of the native land of mountain caribou, as it is their habitat loss and degradation, not predators, that is the root of their dwindling population issue.
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