A B.C. government plan to cull nearly 200 wild wolves by shooting them from helicopters has sparked outrage among conservationists.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said killing the top predators is necessary to protect the province’s caribou herds, several of which are at risk of becoming extinct.

“I understand that its’ a very emotional issue, and we knew that going into the decision, but all the science says it needs to be done,” Minister Steve Thomson said.

Up to 184 wolves are expected to be killed in the South Selkirk and South Peace regions in the coming months as part of a five-year, $2.1 million program.

The government said the cull is supported by conservationists and First Nations, but critics, including conservation group Pacific Wild, argue the methods are cruel and the cull misguided.

“Shooting wolves from helicopters means that many of these wolves will be wounded and left to die in the snow,” said Ian McAllister, a director with Pacific Wild.

“This should not be considered modern wildlife management, to actually kill one species in order to ostensibly protect another.”

Pacific Wild believes the caribou’s numbers are being threatened by habitat destruction in the natural resources industries, and that wolves are simply being used as a scapegoat.

“We know that wolverines, cougars, grizzly bears, black bears, they also prey on caribou,” McAllister said. “What are we going to do? Eliminate those species from large parts of British Columbia as well?”

Details of the cull have stirred a pushback online, and a Change.org petition launched by Pacific Wild on Jan. 15 has already been signed by more than 160,000 people.

“The level of outrage both within Canada and abroad has been unprecedented,” McAllister said.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Wildlife Biology and Management journal published a commentary from scientists at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Universities of Saskatchewan and Victoria.

The scientists found that a wolf culling study in Alberta using similar methods to B.C.’s failed to abide by ethical standards of animal research and welfare.

The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said it will release the results of its cull at the end of the season.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Bhinder Sajan