There were twice as many wolves killed in the second year of B.C.’s controversial cull than the first, the government revealed Tuesday.

A total of 163 wolves were shot from helicopters over the winter in the South Selkirk and South Peace regions, compared to the 84 that were killed the previous year.

The B.C. government maintains the cull is necessary to protect the province’s caribou herds, but opponents argue the only way to save the dwindling populations is through habitat protection.

“It’s just an unbelievable amount of cruelty being waged on wolves in British Columbia, and by all accounts it’s a futile effort,” said Ian McAllister, executive director of conservation group Pacific Wild.

“It’s not going to bring caribou back.”

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the South Selkirk caribou herd declined from 46 in 2009 to 18 in 2014. By March of this year, the population had further fallen down to 12.

The four herds in the South Peace region are also shrinking, and the government blames 37 per cent of adult caribou deaths in the area on wolf predation.

But the main cause of the declines, according to Pacific Wild, is habitat lost through logging, mining, and oil and gas exploration.

“The government is using wolves as a scapegoat,” McAllister said. “They’re continuing to ignore the scientific community that has expressed extreme concerns about the efficacy of this wolf cull, and they’re refusing to respond to the vast majority of British Columbians who oppose it.”

According to a 2014 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, a wolf cull in Alberta might have helped stabilize a shrinking caribou herd, but did nothing to increase its population. The same paper blamed caribou losses across the country on human disruptions to ecosystems.

The B.C. government said habitat recovery is part of its strategy, and that it’s already protected roughly 108,000 hectares of caribou habitat from logging and roadbuilding in the South Selkirk region. It also has a goal of protecting 498,000 hectares in South Peace, though McAllister questioned why the province doesn’t start protecting the habitat now.

“Why haven’t they just done it? We’re decades into the planning,” McAllister said.

Pacific Wild launched a court challenge to B.C.’s cull in January, and said its legal action is ongoing.

The cull, which is scheduled to last another three years, gained international notoriety thanks to attention from celebrities Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson. An online petition calling for its end has been signed more than 216,000 times.