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Caribou recovery plan sees 156 wolves culled in West Chilcotin mountains in last 3 years

Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd now estimated at 508, up from 385 in 2020
Caribou seen here in the Itcha-Ilgachuz herd continue to be the focus of recovery efforts. (Government of B.C. photo - Woodland Caribou Plan report)

Sixty-six wolves were culled in the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou range in the first months of 2022 with more expected to be removed in the coming winter, confirmed the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.

The provincial government has been doing wolf culls since 2015 as part of an effort to restore caribou herds.

In 2020, 90 wolves were removed from the Itcha-Ilgachuz area.

At the time the population of the caribou herd was estimated to be 385.

“The current population estimate is 508 animals,” a ministry spokesperson told Black Press Media.

Some other wolf culls have restored caribou herds, the spokesperson noted, sharing some examples.

In the Kennedy Siding herd, numbers have doubled since 2015 from 49 animals to 115, the Klinse-za herd has gone from 38 animals in 2013 to 114 currently and the Columbia North herd has gone from 124 animals in 2014 to over 200 currently.

“The decision to reduce predator populations is not taken lightly, and our approach is based on science and sound wildlife management principles,” the spokesperson added, noting it is just one tool used to support the recovery of caribou herds.

“Habitat protection, habitat restoration and maternal penning are also key parts of our caribou recovery strategy. Research has shown that these measures alone are not enough in the short term.”

Scott Ellis, executive director and CEO of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia said he had been watching the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd decline for more than a decade.

“It was closed to hunting years ago and if we continue to log and don’t take any action on the predators there will be no caribou left.”

The choice is action or no action, he added.

“We continue to log sensitive caribou habitat while we are trying to protect them. How do you promote forestry jobs while trying to save caribou at the same time? Somebody is going to lose.”

Ellis said anti-hunting groups and the guide outfitters agree on one thing and that is sometimes the wolf cull provides a reason not to do any forestry reform.

“Until they strike the part of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) that says you cannot unduly reduce the timber supply we are kind of on this path to log or bust and I know that’s tough in forestry towns like the Cariboo Chilcotin but there needs to be a sustainable forest industry and we are not logging at a sustainable rate and for that, there are consequences.”

The balance for predators has been tipped and wolves are extremely intelligent and very efficient hunters and effective at killing caribou, he added.

“We’d like to see both done - some habitat restoration and change the FRPA. You have to manage predators to a level to get the balance right and when you have that balance we’d like to see them leave them alone.”

Wolf culls can be an emotional conversation, but not making a decision is a decision and there are consequences for that, he said.

“The landscape is changing and sometimes we have to take dramatic action and that’s what the wolf cull is, because if we don’t there will be no caribou and after there are no caribou, what’s next? Wolves are going to eat other things.”

A strong opponent of the wolf cull is the BCSPCA.

“We are opposed to culls that don’t meet the seven international consensus principles for ethical wildlife control,” said Andrea Wallace, BCSPCA manager of wild animal welfare. “The research that is available shows flaws in the wolf control as a measure to save caribou.”

Restoring destructed habitat without destroying predators would be more effective, Wallace added.

Wallace said she is not 100 per cent familiar with all the programs underway in B.C. but noted she is aware some are using maternal pens combined with wolf culling and habitat restoration so it is difficult to determine what is actually having the impact such as the resulting increased number of caribou in the Itcha-Ilgachuz herd.

“Most people in B.C. are opposed to the killing of one animal for the protection of another,” Wallace said. “It’s not an ethical approach. Even if it is endangered. It’s really the human causes that we need to reflect on and think OK, we’ve disturbed and destroyed their habitat how are we going to fix that and prevent further destruction of habitat and further encroachment of predators?”

Predators are using logging roads to get into habitat where they could not get in before, she added.

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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