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Controversial B.C. wolf cull approved for another 5 years

B.C. has quietly renewed plans to continue a controversial wolf cull intended to protect declining caribou populations. The decision comes despite a recent government survey, where a majority told the province they did not agree with the program.

Since 2015, hundreds of B.C. wolves have been killed as part of the government cull, which involves aerial shooting of the animals from helicopters. According to a government report from 2021, 237 wolves were killed last winter.

The cull has been billed by the province as a short-term measure to support caribou populations, which have been struggling following habitat loss and changes, making them more vulnerable to predators.

According to a government report from 2019 looking at caribou in the South Peace region of the province, drastic declines were seen prior to predator reduction.

The report said those declines "followed extensive landscape change resulting from forest harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration, road construction and other industrial activities within or adjacent to caribou ranges. This has led to the direct loss of habitat and altered predator-prey dynamics." The report stated the type of forest created by industrial activities benefited species like moose, which attract wolves. Linear features, such as roads, can also enhance wolf movement and access to caribou.

Conservation advisor for Pacific Wild Ian McAllister said the province revealed the extension last week in a video meeting with stakeholders.

"It really is a war on wolves," he said. "They get blamed for everything. They get scapegoated for everything, and it’s our opinion that it’s undeserved."

Opposition to the program has garnered high-profile support over the years from celebrities like Miley Cyrus. More recently, an online government survey conducted last fall found 59 per cent of respondents did not agree with the program, while 37 per cent were in favour.

More than 15,000 surveys were completed between Sept. 15 and Nov. 15 of 2021. Of those who took part, 80 per cent believed damage to habitats from natural resource extraction was a cause of caribou decline, while habitat protection, restoration, and management practices were ranked in the top three as important recovery actions.

"I honestly think they’re quite tone deaf to the amount of people that are really outraged by the killing of wolves, the taxpayer funded killing of wolves, in this province," McAllister said. "The province keeps saying this is a short term measure but you know forest ecologists, government and non-government scientists have been warning about the plight of endangered caribou herds for decades, over thirty years. And we’ve been waiting for the province to take substantive steps to protect critical habitat."

McAllister said not enough has been done on that front.

"We’re seeing natural gas pipelines being built through critical habitat. New clearcuts are being approved yearly in critical habitat. More roads are being built in critical habitat. So not nearly enough has been done or is being planned," he said. "It’s one of the reasons why we feel we’ve lost all confidence in the provincial government to protect endangered caribou herds, and that the federal government really needs to step in under their obligations to protect endangered species in Canada."

CTV News Vancouver requested an interview with B.C.'s Forests Minister Katrine Conroy, but was told she was not available. In a statement, the ministry said, "while public opinion is taken very seriously, wildlife management in B.C. considers many factors and is primarily science-based."

The ministry said predator reduction has had "immediate, positive impacts" on caribou populations, particularly when used alongside other tools.

"For example, the Klinse-za (Scott/Moberly) herd has grown from 42 animals to 101 since wolf reduction measures began in 2015 in conjunction with maternity penning," the ministry said. "The science and population monitoring has demonstrated that reducing wolf densities in caribou recovery areas is one of few short-term management options that will effectively halt or reverse caribou population declines and prevent extirpation."

Maternity penning refers to the practice of capturing female caribou in late spring and letting them give birth in a secure enclosure. Mother and calf are released back into the wild after two to six weeks. The province currently has two active maternity penning projects.

McAllister said the success of maternity pens is a larger factor than what’s being described, and called it a "short term, stop gap measure."

"It shouldn’t be used as a long term solution," he said. "These animals are far-ranging, they have large needs, and unfortunately all those needs are wrapped up with protecting old-growth forests."

Pacific Wild has challenged the legality of B.C.’s aerial cull method in court, and is awaiting a decision. Top Stories

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