This response to “Wolf kill the last hope for caribou” in the Peninsula News Review, Jan. 28, provides transparency regarding the controversial issue of killing wolves to save caribou.
The article mentions 18 remaining animals of the South Selkirk mountain caribou herd. The article fails to mention that according to Environment Canada’s Recovery Strategy (2014), the population of the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population across B.C. and Alberta is approximately 6,000.
The 18 caribou mentioned are not genetically distinct; they are geographically distinct. Isolated pockets of caribou are the result of habitat loss and degradation due to industrial interference.
The approximation of B.C.’s grey wolf population being 8,500 individuals requires scrutiny. According to B.C.’s Wolf Management Plan (WMP) “direct census is infeasible.” Therefore the actual wolf population is unknown. Moreover, the wolf population of the South Selkirk mountains and the Peace District are also unknown. Factual scientific data should underpin an effective caribou protection strategy.
The cause of reported increased predation to caribou is cited in the Recovery Strategy as “resulting from habitat alteration due to industrial activities.” These activities “such as forest harvesting, mining and mineral exploration and development, and oil and gas exploration and development remove or destroy southern mountain caribou habitat (mature and old forests) and create early seral habitats favoured by other prey species such as moose and deer.”
As deer and moose reportedly sustain wolf populations, the resulting increase in their populations may increase wolf populations, which may subsequently prey on caribou. In response, “wildlife managers have increased the hunting allocation of deer, moose, and elk in, and adjacent to, caribou habitat to reduce the alternate prey.” The rationale is that a reduction of these primary food sources for wolves will naturally limit the wolf population. However, the contrary is also true: a decrease in a wolf’s natural prey forces wolves to hunt alternate species such as caribou, justifying a wolf kill while satisfying BC’s hunting lobby.
The WMP’s goal to “ensure a self-sustaining population” is echoed in the article, that managed hunting and trapping preserves the wolf as apex predator. These claims are premised on the argument that killing wolves preserves them, rather than conserving wildlife and its habitat for a balanced ecosystem to preserve wolves.
The inevitable effects of the approved Northern Gateway Pipeline that will run through the heart of Mountain Caribou habitat, the natural gas industry in the Peace District, the potential expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and the Site-C project is that they negatively impact caribou habitat.
In other words, the worst is yet to come for caribou. When Europeans arrived, humans, wolves and caribou co-existed in plentiful numbers. Caribou populations have suffered since then. One incontrovertible conclusion is that killing wolves will not change the future for caribou. Caribou populations naturally fluctuate, yet without sufficient habitat preserved or restored, they will continue to decline.
Action that is arguably as opposite to the core values of many British Columbians as shooting wolves from helicopters is not the answer to caribou preservation. Habitat protection and restoration is the last hope. Wolves are not the problem, we are.
Al Hanna, Brentwood Bay