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. 

BC Liberals scapegoat and slaughter 163 wolves

The BC Liberal government has released the number of wolves slaughtered in the 2016 wolf cull. 163 wolves were gunned down by helicopters in the South Peace and South Selkirk regions - almost twice as many as were killed in last year’s cull. 

Wildlife Defence League condemns the BC Liberals and Bighorn Helicopters for their unethical, inhumane and unscientific war on wolves and their use of BC taxpayer dollars to fund this slaughter. 

The BC Liberals blame wolves for a decline in caribou in both the South Peace and South Selkirk regions and have justified the wolf cull as a measure to save the endangered herds, but in reality it is habitat destruction through human activities, including mining, logging, and oil and gas exploration that is the root cause. In fact, the wolf cull was initially put forward by the forestry industry as a way to shift blame for the decline in caribou and avoid restrictions on logging activity. 

Meanwhile, the BC Liberals have done little, if anything, to address the root causes for caribou decline. Instead, the herds continue to shrink - in the South Selkirk region they have diminished from 46 animals in 2009, to 18 in 2014, and by March of this year they’ve fallen further to 12. The reality in the South Peace region is just as grim, as the endangered herds there continue to dwindle as well.

Wildlife Defence League was on the ground in the South Selkirk region during this year’s cull, in an effort to monitor, document and expose its realities and the threats facing caribou. Crew members discovered disturbing details about the nature of the cull, including the government’s use of a collared “Judas” wolf, who is tracked back to his pack, only to see his family members slaughtered while he is left alive in order to lead government snipers to more wolves. 

“That the government considers this cull to be “humane” is beyond disturbing. It’s time the BC Liberals listen to and align with independent science and the vast majority of British Columbians who strongly oppose the scapegoating of wolves.” said Tommy Knowles, Campaign Director for Wildlife Defence League. “We are calling on the BC government and Bighorn Helicopters to end the cull and reallocate those resources to genuine caribou habitat protection and restoration.”

- Visit our Take Action page today to stand up for wolves and caribou! -

Ontario abandons expanded wolf and coyote hunt

April 5, 2016

The Ontario Government announced it will not be expanding the slaughter of wolves and coyotes in Northern Ontario, as was initially proposed by the Ministry of Natural Resources this past January. 

The plan, which would have eased hunting regulations for wolves and coyotes in an ill-informed attempt to protect moose populations, was opened for public comment and over 12,000 submissions were made. In addition, over 200,000 petition signatures were submitted in opposition to the proposal. 

The Government acknowledged arguments against the plan, which included that it would “reverse steps taken in recent years to protect wolves in general; it does not adequately protect Eastern wolves; that predation is not the cause of the moose decline and the proposal won’t benefit moose populations broadly; and opposition to hunting and trapping in general.”

Wildlife Defence League welcomes this decision and we hope it will inform a larger discussion about ethical and science-based conservation and that other provincial governments, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, will follow suit and end their senseless slaughter of wolves and other predators. 

This case highlights the importance and impact of public pressure. Together, we can help end the scapegoating of predators in British Columbia. Please contact your MLA and the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources (Honourable Steve Thomson) and share this announcement with them. Call on them to officially oppose and do their part to end the BC wolf cull and the expansion of predator control across the province. Encourage them to instead support genuine conservation efforts.

The Fight To Keep The Peace

The fight to stop the construction of BC Hydro’s controversial Site C Dam continues, as concerned members of the public protest outside BC Hydro headquarters in downtown Vancouver. One young woman, Kristin Henry, is on day 18 of a hunger strike in opposition to the project. 

“It’s simple - we don’t need the energy from the dam, but we need everything that the dam is going to destroy”, said the tired but resolute Henry. She is calling for an immediate halt to the dam’s construction until the Treaty 8 First Nations have been appropriately consulted, the current court cases by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have concluded, and the BC Utilities Commission has completed an independent review of the project. 

Henry is not alone in her disapproval - her hunger strike is in solidarity with Treaty 8 First Nations, who have been actively engaged for years in the struggle to defend their rights and territories from the threat of Site C. Treaty 8 members, with help from local farmers and supporters, initiated a peaceful protest camp in December of last year, on traditional territory near the construction site of the mega project. 

For two months the land defenders at the Rocky Mountain fort protest camp braved the cold to protect not only some of the most fertile agricultural land in the province, but also one of the largest and most critical wildlife corridors on the continent. A Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative report concluded that the cumulative impacts of Site C “are highly significant for all species.” Wolves are predicted to suffer a loss of 22 per cent of landscape productivity, caribou 31 to 37 per cent, and grizzlies 42 to 44 per cent. The Peace river valley is also home to incredible old growth boreal forests and the treaty rights and cultural heritage of the Treaty 8 First Nations. The 60 meter high dam would destroy all of this and flood over 100 km of the valley, an area equivalent to 14 Stanley Parks. Beyond that, opponents say the dam will support an expanded fossil fuel industry in the province, and taxpayers will be left to foot the over $8 billion bill for the mega project.

In late February, the BC Supreme Court ruled to grant BC Hydro an injunction to remove protestors from the dam site, ironically stating that the peaceful protest was causing irreparable harm…to the utility company’s profits, that is. While BC Hydro may have been able to remove the protestors from the land, they cannot remove the love of the land from those who defend it. The Treaty 8 First Nations courageously continue their fight to protect their homeland against the Site C Dam - a fight which is now before the Federal Court of Canada. You can show your support by contributing to their legal defence fund.

It’s time the BC Liberals honour the treaties and heed the concerns of those who elected them, as opposition to Site C isn’t going away, it’s right at their door step. 

Photo: Global News

Photo: Global News

Mowat's Spirit of the Wolf in the South Selkirk Mountains

Sam Edmonds, Conservation Photographer & WDL Campaign Photographer

Sam Edmonds, Conservation Photographer & WDL Campaign Photographer

Commentary by Sam Edmonds

The importance of Farley Mowat's canonical work Never Cry Wolf is well documented in Canadian culture. In many ways, the recount of a government naturalist sent to investigate the behavior of wolves and the decline of caribou in the farthest reaches of Canadian wilderness directly addresses the lives of a nation of people whose choice of latitude at which to survive has forged so precarious a relationship with wild nature. In almost stark contrast to the Londonian Klondike that aesthetics our perception of lupine species, the context of Mowat's story initially shrouds our relationship with wolves in a cloud of cold pragmatism and bureaucracy. But the writer's exposure to the familial happiness and innocent existence of canis lupis quickly quells any reader's ominous conception of the canids. It is in this way that Mowat's sentiment has once again been validated as the current government of British Columbia assails wolves in the name of rigorous anthropocentrism. And again, Canadians are forced to bear witness to the injustices born of economic untruths and callous disregard.

During our time in the south east of "British Columbia", the majority of our days were spent tracking wolves whose territory we believed lay just to the east of the Kootenay Pass. Over time, we began to preempt where we might find signs of these evasive animals and just as Mowat's relationship with the pack at Wolf House Bay blossomed over time, as did ours with a solitary yet unseen wolf nicknamed "Ghost". On a particularly foggy day, a chance encounter with a member of the Caribou Recovery Program uncovered information about the tax­payer funded cull that detailed usage of the "Judas Wolf" method ­ an archaic practice now deplored by most wildlife management authorities that facilitates the efficacy of culling programs by leaving a single subordinate male wolf perpetually collared while any accumulated members of his pack are repeatedly killed throughout the duration of a season.

This was how we knew Ghost was alone.

While Mowat's interaction with wolves in Canada's north came of an almost instantaneous sighting after his landing in sub­arctic tundra, among the steep slopes and dense coniferous forest of the Selkirks, our only interaction with Ghost came in the form of footprints in last night's snow; mounds of fur and bone at a kill site; week old stories of sightings by local loggers. Not unlike Amarok himself, for us this elusive canid became the unseen archetype of lupines; the spirit of the wolf in the South Selkirk Mountains.

The boundaries of Ghosts territory were ostensibly marked by the US border to our South and an active hauling road to the east and repetitive travel upon the latter soon afforded us a glimpse as to the ephemeral lives of trees in the area. One week we hiked amongst towering Spruce and Douglas Firs only to find them severed at the base upon our return days later. While the wolves of this area are being blamed for the decline in caribou numbers, we hiked among the aftermath of an industry that is clearing their habitat hectares at a time and the temptation to quote Mowat strikes us again: “Once [wolves] have entered timber, they are exposed to a concentrated, highly skilled and furious assault from men.”

In the pre­dawn light of our last day tracking him, while the sky was like blue ink, we heard Ghost howl. After weeks of following ungulates through cut blocks, watching coyotes and elk roam the snow-­covered potato fields, we heard our first tangible sign that Ghost was in our presence, just across the creek. And in light of moral frostbite from the cold politics of such a volatile and fiercely debated issue, we were warmed by the voice of whom was really threatened.

But we were the only ones that howled back.

It was in this realization, at the close of our time in the Kootenays, that the injustice suffered by wolves at the hands of irrationality, speciesism and betrayal became so clear. As recounted to him by his friend Ootek, Mowat's tutored notion of Amarok became unhindered by the bounds of any purely mythical design in place of a realization of Amarok's ecological nobility that every wolf embodies. For Mowat, the truth that abounds in the observation of wild nature was enough to sway his preconception of lupine ferocity and instead prompt reflection upon the hubris of his own species. As he concludes: "this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong."