A Death Sentence for Selkirk Wolves

Photo credit: Jim Lawrence/Kootenay Reflections

Photo credit: Jim Lawrence/Kootenay Reflections

For wolves in parts of British Columbia, winter marks a dark time. Since 2015, the provincial government and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development have been culling wolves in a misguided attempt to protect endangered mountain caribou. Over 400 wolves have been slaughtered, shot from helicopters after being mercilessly chased down through the snow.

The wolf cull has failed miserably in the South Selkirk. When it began in 2015, there were 18 mountain caribou left in the herd. Today, it’s believed only 10 mountain caribou remain, despite that most of the wolves in the territory have been killed. There is almost no suitable habitat left in the South Selkirk region for the endangered herd. Decades of logging destroyed critical habitat and biologists suggest it will take between 50-100 years before the area can again sustain a mountain caribou herd. Logging continues today in adjacent critical habitat which government biologists warn makes it near impossible for caribou to recover.

Recent footage obtained by our field crew in the South Selkirk contains a short clip of one of the many wolves being sent to slaughter this winter. We have tracked these animals for over a year and it is heartbreaking to think that soon they will be targeted by government contractors.

Provincial government expands controversial wolf kill program

Photo: Wendy Chambers

Photo: Wendy Chambers

In a move counter to science-based evidence and ethics, the BC Liberal government has again scapegoated wolves for the decline in caribou throughout the province. In a recent announcement, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations stated they will be expanding their highly controversial wolf kill program to the Revelstoke area.  

Wildlife Defence League (WDL) opposes the tax payer-funded wolf kill program, as it fails to address the root cause of caribou decline, which is habitat destruction. The kill program is also being used as a measure to avoid a federal caribou recovery plan that would impact industrial development in critical caribou habitat. In fact, Freedom of Information requests reveal that the provincial government was prompted by the forestry industry to implement the wolf kill program, in an effort to protect timber interests.

The BC Liberal government claims to have protected 2.2 million hectares of caribou habitat around the province. The reality though, is not so simple. Much of the 2.2 million hectares constitutes existing protections and is not the quality or elevation of habitat that caribou desperately need to recover. Instead, it’s often patches of forest between clearcuts, steep slopes or high elevation habitat. 

Meanwhile, mining, oil and gas development, recreational activity and logging of old-growth forests that are critical for caribou survival continues. Reports from the Revelstoke area confirm that caribou protections have not slowed down the harvesting of old-growth forest on public land in the region. A recent audit of logging in mountain caribou habitat by the Forest Practices Board (FPB), British Columbia's independent forestry investigation agency, found that none of the cut-blocks it reviewed had ever been logged before. According to estimates from two timber companies and the FPB, the province will be cutting virgin timber for the next 30 to 40 years before a significant number of stands are ready for a second cut. 

So, when the provincial government falls back on their “2.2 million hectares” statistic, they are talking about quantity, not quality.

Additionally, a recently released joint study between the provincial and federal government examined the impact of forestry, oil and gas and mining on caribou populations in the Tumbler Ridge area of BC, where the province has killed 227 wolves since the launch of their wolf kill program there in 2015. The study found that disturbance of caribou habitat in the region has far outpaced the 35% maximum disturbance target set by the federal government as the recovery strategy threshold. In the Pine River and Quintette area, for example, 62% of low elevation habitat is already disturbed. 

Moreover, the use of aerial gunning and strangling snares through the wolf kill program is incredibly inhumane and leads to prolonged suffering and death. Last winter, our Never Cry Wolf initiative also exposed the government’s use of a “Judas wolf tactic”, whereby an individual wolf is collared and tracked back to his/her pack, only to see pack members gunned down from a helicopter. The collared wolf is left alive in order to lead government snipers to more wolves, should he/she find a new pack. 

Ethically and ecologically, killing one species to save another is misguided. WDL is calling on the BC Liberal government to take genuine habitat protection and restoration measures to conserve caribou and to end their reliance on ineffective and inhumane predator management strategies.