Mountain caribou from the South Selkirk herd

Wolf kill last hope for BC caribou herds

Biologists aim to shoot 24 grey wolves from helicopters in the Kootenays, and up to 160 more to protect herds in Peace region

VICTORIA – When the B.C. government last resorted to shooting wolves from helicopters in the 1980s, an emotional public outcry forced a retreat.

In the B.C. tradition, sensation-seeking urban media and protesters led the way. An outraged reporter named Pamela Martin marched a BCTV crew off the road near Fort St. John to expose this presumed crime against nature. With a metre of snow and temperatures dipping to -40, they didn’t get far, but public sentiment was aroused enough for politicians to overrule wildlife biologists.

This winter, while snow reveals the wolves’ location from the air, the choppers and rifles are out again. And my heart goes out to the biologists and First Nations hunters who face this grim task.

The South Selkirk mountain caribou herd, which ranges between B.C., Idaho and Washington, has been the target of intensive conservation efforts by governments on both sides of the border. Six of the remaining 18 animals now wear radio collars. There were 46 in 2009, only 27 by 2012, and wolves have killed two more since last spring.

Targeted hunting and trapping haven’t been sufficient, so up to 24 grey wolves are to be shot from the air before the snow melts.

There are seven caribou herds in the South Peace, with the Graham herd the largest at about 700. It’s the control group, left to fend for itself as a measure of wolf removal for the rest. The Burnt Pine herd is down to one bull, effectively extinct. The province and Treaty 8 First Nations are working on a plan to kill 120-160 wolves in that region.

It’s long been accepted that resource roads, logging and recreational trail use have increased herd disruption and predator access through what would otherwise be seamless bush and deep snow.

Snowmobiles and even back-country skiers can shift the balance. Smithers-area outdoor enthusiasts are currently being urged to stay away from the Telkwa Mountains, where the caribou herd is down to fewer than 20 animals. Local hunting and snowmobile clubs have observed a ban on motorized travel since 2003, but of course there will always be yahoos who chase animals for fun.

A mountain caribou recovery plan was implemented in 2007, protecting 2.2 million hectares from logging and road-building, including most of the core habitat of the South Selkirk herd. The Nature Conservancy of Canada bought 550 square kilometres in that region to protect habitat.

Strategies include transplanting animals from healthier to weaker herds to increase genetic diversity, and capturing and penning females with young calves to keep them from being picked off by wolves.

The B.C. grey wolf population averages around 8,500, with managed hunting and trapping to protect livestock while preserving the wolf as apex predator in most of its wide range.

This context is seldom reported by Vancouver media, which mostly sees its role not as explaining issues but rather embarrassing whatever political party is in power, and providing an uncritical platform for the stop-logging-mining-energy crowd, which is seen as popular with urban viewers.

Remember the spotted owl, with the fringe of its range extending into southern B.C.? Our branch-plant enviros marketed that one for years. Its core habitat is Washington and Oregon, where many sawmills were shuttered to “save” them.

Now they’re shooting invasive barred owls, which have emerged as a greater threat to spotted owls than logging. Context is important.

I suppose we’ll never know what difference the 1980s wolf kill would have made if it hadn’t been shouted down for TV ratings and urban enviro-donations.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Langford mayor says City threatened during meeting over speculation tax

Stew Young says he wants Langford exempt from tax

Victoria invited to get a closer look at Sunday’s lunar eclipse

Special event allows public to view the moon through UVic telescopes

Unruly passenger forces Victoria-bound flight to divert to Calgary

Police say charges are pending against a woman in her 40s

Sooke municipal staff enters budget prep mode

All a matter of priorities, says mayor

Company issues lifetime ban after man jumps from cruise ship

Nick Naydev posted the video last week showing him standing on the balcony of the Symphony of the Seas

BC Hydro scammers bilked customers out of nearly $45,000 in 2018

Nearly 2,000 people reported scams to the utility, as they continue to be more common

Good news: Peak flu season over in B.C.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says that while peak season is over, rates remain high this time of year

Vancouver Island conservancy group calls for government to shut down Georgia Strait herring roe fishery

DFO says extensive research is done annually before setting a maximum harvest rate

High court ruling allows long-term expats to vote in byelections across Canada

Supreme Court decision enfranchised an estimated one million or more Canadian expats to be able to vote

B.C. woman posts to Facebook after she and nephew reported missing for days

Roseanne Supernault says both she and her six-year-old nephew are fine and she has contacted police

Inflation rises as higher airfares, veggie prices offset cheaper gas

Statistics Canada says inflation accelerated to two per cent in December

Social media strains over Prince Rupert’s boil water notice

Resident forms Community for Clean Water, and Jennifer Rice responds to acting mayor’s comments

Dog dies saving B.C. family from burning home

Homeowners safe but one pet missing, another confirmed dead following fire

Most Read