Big, bad wolf is B.C.’s favourite scapegoat

"Our Backyard" columnist Lawrence Woodall argues wolf cull ignores real problems facing B.C.'s caribou herds

The disconnected B.C. government may be smoking just a wee too much B.C. bud these days. First, they’re opening B.C.’s vault of natural beauty to a new type of tourist — thousands of foreign trophy hunters who will take food from the tables of B.C. hunters so they can mount natural B.C. in their family rooms.

Then again, I guess we need the new tourists as decreased ferry services, increased ferry rates and the closure of several tourist info booths in B.C. are keeping away folks who just want to view our wildlife, not kill it. And let’s not forget the Bella Coola region, where several new lodges have been built in the last decade to diversify the economy. This is healthy for smaller communities, but with the lost of the Ferry service, and the present 16-car ferry farce that Transport Minister Stoner supports comical at best, will these businesses survive? Questioning several operators this summer, it sounds unlikely, as operators in the region lost more than 70 per cent of business this year.

Then there are the pipelines in North Central B.C., which will negatively impact both grizzly and caribou populations. Christie’s plan of prostituting B.C. to foreigners is alive and well, at the expense of Natural BC. Under Christie’s ‘B.C. is the greenest province in Canada’ plan, there is more land allotted for mining leases than ever before in the history of the province. This is the development of natural B.C.; human development is the serial killer of nature.

And now we come to the culling of up to 184 wolves by snipers operating out of helicopters. Sounds like a page out of Alaska, where they kill wolves with 50-calibre machine guns from helicopters, so there are more moose to sell more moose tags. That’s the “Apocalypse Now” version of wildlife management; it’s all about the illusion wolves are responsible for the decimation of wildlife populations, when in reality it’s about development and the almighty dollar.

Caribou populations have been decimated in Canada due to development, not by wolves. The George River herd, which numbered over 800,000 in the late 80’s, now numbers fewer than 27,000 and is continuing to decline at an alarming rate. This was forecasted in the early 90’s by Caribou biologists, but development went ahead. Government attempts to blame increased predation and parasites, which is true to a degree, but without the open scar on the landscape due to development, population cycles would’ve remained stable.

With the Southern Selkirk caribou herd we see the B.C. Government scapegoat the wolves for its demise. It was habitat destruction and the lack of habitat protection which put the herd at risk, so what exactly does the Ministry of the Environment do? To answer that question, they take taxpayers’ money. Anyone that has followed me over the years know I’ve defended the Conservation branch, but it appears that the decimation of the conservation authorities under Gordon Campbell in the 90’s has made a mockery of what is expected of them. This isn’t their fault, but the fault of a government that gives the illusion they care about natural B.C.

A wolf cull is only a quick fix, and unless habitat is quickly restored and protected, the last of the Selkirk herd will fade into history. Caribou don’t coexist well with development; they prefer the canopy of the forest and don’t like to traverse large, open, linear disturbances, where it is a turkey shoot for wolves. As humans deforest regions through mining and other forms of development, large open scars on the landscape are created. This allows wolves to move further into caribou territory, where wolves wait on the edges of forests for caribou to migrate across the scars. The wolves chase down and kill, and as more scars are opened it increases the killing ground for wolves, which means more kills, an environment for a growing wolf pack, and a short-sighted excuse to blame the wolves.

An example of this is the Little Smoky Caribou herd (seven-year study) which numbers approximately 70 animals. More than 95 per cent of their territory is disturbed by industry development. Instead of habitat restoration or protection, the wolf was blamed once again, and a cull began in 2005. By 2012, 841 wolves had been slaughtered, poisoned or shot from helicopters. This raises several questions about caribou management by government as energy leases are still being sold, which will likely cause the collapse of the herd and the senseless destruction of hundreds of wolves.

This study looked at adjoining caribou territory under the same strains of development where no culls occurred and there was little difference in population fluctuations. Where caribou territories haven’t been impacted by industry, populations remain stable with wolves present. This isn’t about anti-development, but about responsible development, and whether we have to remove the protection of natural B.C. from the hands of shortsighted politicians such as Christie Clark.

Are we a species that is bent on destroying all other species at the cost of development? If you’re telling me there is no alternative to these short sighted projects, then we are a species that is best suited for extinction before we eradicate what’s left of the biodiversity on this planet. And to you responsible North Island outdoor enthusiasts out there, this isn’t being dramatic, but realistic.

Most of us live here because of the beauty. For me, it’s the black bears on the island and the coastal grizzlies only a short flight away. Could any of you imagine a world without grizzlies, moose, or caribou, and even the wolf, which has constantly been slandered by humans but which plays a major role in wildlife management?

It’s our lack of protecting habitat and the reckless development at all costs that will destroy these animals. I sometimes wonder about our lack of sensitivity towards other species. And on a lighter note, I also wonder if Christie’s snipers will play Ride of the Valkyries as they fly overhead and butcher innocent wolves.