make a donation

Killing wolves to save caribou: how did we get here and who’s to blame

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” - Utah Phillips

All too often we don’t dig deep enough to understand the root cause of a problem, nor hold those responsible to account.

Last week the Province of BC announced that it will kill up to 184 wolves in an attempt to protect endangered mountain caribou herds in the South Peace and in the South Selkirk mountains. Unfortunately, media coverage seems to be focused on the rift that has emerged between conservation groups that support the hunt, and those that oppose it. What this fails to capture is that all of these groups are united in their call for government to address the real root of the problem, which is habitat loss, and to enact further measures to protect caribou from human disturbance.

These herds have been pushed to the brink of being wiped out largely due to logging and snowmobiling, activities known to favor the expansion of predator populations. The wolves’ predation is a symptom of an ecosystem that has been thrown seriously out of whack. Many groups, including CPAWS-BC, have repeatedly called for greater protection for this species and its habitat, including through BC’s 2006 Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan.

The science team that wrote this plan was unequivocal in their finding that habitat loss and fragmentation is responsible for the species’ decline. While this plan resulted in the protection of two million hectares of habitat, logging continues in areas known to be mountain caribou habitat. The science team also pointed out that the killing of wolves should only be a last resort, if caribou numbers are so low that wolves would likely wipe the herd out before the benefits of habitat protection took effect.

A recent paper in the Canadian Journal of Zoology seriously questions the long-term effectiveness of a cull in restoring caribou populations, but concedes that this can prevent a population from crashing completely. In reviewing the experience of Alberta’s wolf cull, scientists found that although calf survivorship increased following the cull (from 9 to 19 calves per 100 cows), it did not result in recovery of the herd.

With as few as 18 animals left (in the South Selkirk herd), BC’s cull is a last-ditch effort. Those that want to see the caribou survive are being forced into the untenable situation of conceding to these actions, inhumane as they may be. The only thing worse would be to do nothing while these herds are eliminated forever.

But is a cull the best course of action? Is it worth it?

We must use this as an opportunity to review the actions of government and the logging companies that led to this situation. Who were the Registered Professional Foresters that signed off on each forest harvesting plan, and were they aware that this was critical caribou habitat? What warnings were ignored, by whom, and when? What other options do we have? Are wolves the real cause of the caribou populations’ decline or are they just paying the price? What lessons can be learned and applied to herds that still stand a chance?

There are so many unanswered questions. The people of BC have every right to demand accountability and ask why we got to this point and what our options are.

Help save caribou habitat by signing on to our Caribou and You pledge.