In a move counter to science-based evidence and ethics, the provincial 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 provincial 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 provincial government to take genuine habitat protection and restoration measures to conserve caribou and to end their reliance on ineffective and inhumane predator management strategies.