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Aerial Culling of Wolves to Save Endangered Caribou – The Rationale

In mid January, after receiving numerous emails from British Columbians across the province, I wrote to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to ask a number of questions concerning the rationale for the wolf cull in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace of British Columbia. I have now received a very detailed, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the questions that I posed. I encourage you to read the Minister’s response.

As noted in the response, the situation in the South Selkirk has changed since Steve Wilson wrote his 2010 report entitled “Estimating the Short-term Benefit of Wolf Management to Mountain Caribou Herds”. The Selkirk caribou population dropped from 46 to 18 caribou from 2009 to 2014 after increasing from 2004 to 2009. Few wolves were in the area during the earlier period while increasing numbers have been present in recent years and “the most recent confirmed mortalities on the South Selkirk herd are due to wolf predation”.

The Minister’s letter also outlines steps that have been or are being taken to preserve the caribou’s natural habitat. In addition, it outlines several predator management projects that are being developed on a trial basis.

The Minister also provided me with both a report plan and a  peer review of the report plan. A key finding of the report was:

“The South Selkirk caribou population is declining by 30% to 40% per year (as demonstrated by the  population numbers listed in the operational plan. Based on this rate of decline, the caribou population will likely be in a state of quasi-extirpation within a year.”

It’s clear from the evidence that the South Selkirk caribou population is near extinction and that predation by wolves is a leading cause of most recent mortalities. As a society, I believe we have a responsibility to protect endangered species. It is clear that a choice needs to be made. Not dealing with the growing wolf population would mean almost certain extinction of the caribou herd. Dealing with the growing wolf population gives this herd a fighting chance.

Not withstanding this short-term emergency measure that needs to take place, and the government’s recent efforts to create and preserve increased habitat for the caribou, I will continue to monitor government’s 2008 “Interim Strategy for Predator/Prey Management Actions in Support of Mountain Caribou Recovery”, where it notes that “habitat loss and fragmentation is largely the ultimate cause of mountain caribou declines”.

 

18 Comments

  1. Julianna Paquin-
    January 12, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Hello Andrew; hopefully you are still willing to comment on this issue. I may be wrong, but it seems like one of your links goes to a document that is different than what you call it.

    That is, the link you call “a report plan” in your paragraph 4. That link goes to a 3-page document written by Dave Hervieux which appears to be the peer-review that is referred to in paragraph 4 on page 4 of Minister Thompson’s letter to you. It does not appear that Minister Thompson actually sent you the operational plans for the South Selkirk and South Peace, just the two peer reviews and the mountain caribou population trends.

    I find this very important since you emphasize the quote from Dave Hervieux’s document (which you call “a key finding of the report”). If Dave Hervieux’s document is his peer review and not the operational plan, then it is unclear whether that quote is from the Government of BC’s plan, or is Dave Hervieux’s conclusion.

    Knowing you are busy, I hope you might find time to clarify this?

    JP

  2. Sue Tripp-
    October 26, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    The poor caribou. It is obvious, now that the caribou are going extinct, no one cares about them. Just let them go. Who needs caribou. It is the cuddly meat eating carnivours everyone loves. The caribou are bad and the wolves and bears are good.

    Human intervention is needed in a world that has been so mangled by humans that we can no longer let nature take its course. Not if we care about all species. Is it too late for the caribou? They will not make ot if left to the wolves. There are more wolves, because we no longer use poison on them. This is s fact.

    Andrew Weaver, what is the difference between supporting the environment and supporting animal rights? Is there a difference?

  3. March 25, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Andrew, for me the wolf issue is a deal-breaker. You support the wolf cull? I stop being a Green.

    If any being needs our defense, it is the top predators like wolves, with whom we compete for hegemony over the earth because of our insane need to chew up the earth’s crust for our own pleasure and ever-burgeoning numbers.

    That band of caribou may indeed disappear, or perhaps the strongest and luckiest will survive to another generation in spite of our encroachments on their territory. If the band dies out, the wolves will either find something else to eat or also die out–or move on. Wolves, too are susceptible to habitat destruction, you realize. Whatever happens, the future of both species is now out of our hands. We already made that decision when we destroyed their home and put their existence at risk. We have absolutely no business making their situation even worse.

    I disagree utterly with what you said here: “As a society, I believe we have a responsibility to protect endangered species. It is clear that a choice needs to be made. Not dealing with the growing wolf population would mean almost certain extinction of the caribou herd. Dealing with the growing wolf population gives this herd a fighting chance.”

    The hell we do! Have a responsibility to choose among species, that is. Bible readers will point out that God gave “man” the job of taxonomy, not the job of inventing the ridiculous idea of “wilderness management”. (Personally I suspect God assigned Adam that job to give him something to do with all the hierarchical thinking that goes on in human brains: “Here, impose order on creation, why don’t you? That should keep you busy for several millennia.”

    There is absolutely no moral foundation to the notion of humanity deciding which other beings should live or die. There is, however, moral foundation, even in many religions, for the principle, “Thou shalt not kill.” Notice the sentence stops short of an object? Maybe God suspected our species of having a screw loose somewhere w.r.t. the joy of killing. If you had created the ecology of this planet, would you want one species to overrun the place and spend its last days slaughtering every other creature it could define as competition?

    What I see is the Boys of Western Civilization in its violent penultimate days looking around for more fearsome creatures to torture with its techno-toys so that they can grin for the camera as they hold up the bloody corpses in triumph. We are a loathesome, stupid species that fails, over and over, to take the long view, the precautionary principle and the compassionate approach.

    Please don’t destroy my faint hope that Green actually means something different.

  4. March 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Andrew,

    I am SO disappointed you haven’t given this a good look – and have accepted the gov’t’s pseudo-science. If you examine the literature relevant to the South Selkirks, you’d find that wolf predation accounts for only 6% of the known predation in that region (source: Wittmer et al. 2005. Population dynamics of the endangered mountain ecotype of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in British Columbia. Can. J. Zool. 88: 407-418).

    In fact, in the southern region the wolf is only the fourth ranked predator on caribou, with the first three being cougars, bears, and wolverines, respectively.

    Like all caribou populations, the South Selkirks are in a multi-predator system, and culling the wolves will have no effect.

    In terms of habitat protection – well…that’s another area you haven’t looked closely at. Yes, the gov’t has protected SOME habitat, but it’s been a completely inadequate effort, with voluntary snowmobile closures regularly being violated.

    I could go on pages about what you’ve missed in this issue – I thought a scientist would look at the REAL peer-reviewed science a little closer before “buying in”. What a disappointment…

    • March 18, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Brad, I have read the article. First off, it is 10 years out of date. The caribou tagged in that study were done so between 1984 and 2004. Second, the study did show wolf predation as being easily dominant in the northern extent of the range, but it also specifically stated that wolves were more abundant there. This is no longer the case. In the areas where wolves are abundant, this is the main conclusion of the study: “If this hypothesis can be validated, localized reductions of cougars and wolves where predation of caribou is high might be an effective management strategy to reduce the impact of predators on caribou populations.”
      I recognize the cull is controversial, but the evidence in the Wittmer article supports not refutes the government’s policy.

      • March 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

        Sorry Andrew, in the simplest terms: you’re wrong.

        1. There is no scientific evidence that there are more wolves in the south selkirks now compared to 10 years ago. Consult the 2014 Wolf Management Plan – there is ONE population estimate for BC using current methodology – meaning ONE data point. A single data point does not make a trend. There is nothing beyond anecdotal info (e.g., “more sightings”) suggesting an increase in wolf numbers in the south selkirks. There can be several explanations for “more sightings”, including increased backcountry use.

        2. If you examine the results of what happened to the caribou that were trans-located into the South Selkirks in 2012 (19 of them), you’ll find that 6 were taken by cougars and only 2 by wolves. The lack of predation by the other primary predators in that system (bears and wolverines) is logical because the translocations were of adult caribou, and both bears and wolverines take their toll primarily on calves.

        The reality is simply that ALL caribou in BC exist in multi-predator systems, and there isn’t a single system studied to date where wolves account for more than 37% of the predator-induced mortality. In the South Selkirks the wolves are far from being the primary predator today, just like they weren’t in 2005. EVERY study to date (feel free to contact me for a list) of the southern mountain caribou population indicates that cougars are the number one predator (to this day).

        You should also consult Robert Serrouya’s 2013 PhD thesis where he unsuccessfully looked for any evidence of apparent competition of wolves (on caribou) in the Revelstoke region (same deep snow ecotype of caribou). I can provide you with this thesis upon request. There were also some incredibly interesting “incidental results” within that work – of the 247 wolf kills found, none were of caribou. And the 267 wolf scats examined contained a total of 18 prey sources – but none were of caribou. Convoluted explanations can be constructed for each of these results, but parsimony suggests the obvious – the wolves are preying almost exclusively on their primary prey – moose.

        I can provide with 100’s of studies that completely surround this issue – from the issues associated with the unethical and inhumane method of killing of the wolves through to the apparent competition theories, the responses of caribou to human infrastructure and disturbance and more. And, of course, loads of studies on the increased importance of stochastic demographic processes (avalanches, etc.) – which can over-ride predation-induced mortality – when population sizes are down this low (18 or fewer caribou). It is impossible to objectively read these studies and come away believing that culling wolves will solve the caribou problem – in either short-term or long-term frameworks.

        There is no logical or scientific defence of the wolf cull in BC – it IS a case of “the convenient scapegoat” and the wolf cull definitely represents the cheapest way to make a government APPEAR as though it is doing something to conserve caribou when the reality is that they have avoided the heavy lifting associated with truly protecting the habitat for decades.

        Cheers…

        Brad

        • March 19, 2015 at 11:20 am

          My view on this arrived from a thorough analysis of the situation. Istarted with a comprehensive letter to the Minister in response to many emails I received:
          http://www.andrewweavermla.ca/2015/01/19/aerial-culling-wolves-save-endangered-caribou/

          I did not express support or opposition until I got information:

          http://www.andrewweavermla.ca/2015/03/09/aerial-culling-wolves-save-endangered-caribou-rationale/

          The ethical dilemma is this. The reason why the South Selkirk caribou herd is about to go extinct is because of habitat loss created by humans (forestry, logging roads, ATVs etc). The wolves will take out the remaining 18 caribou within a year if something is not done. The question is this: Do we owe it to this caribou herd to help them reestablish? There is no right or wrong answer. Obviously, without associated habitat preservation, a cull of wolves will have no effect. The BC Government has taken steps in this instance to do habitat restoration (allow grow back, protect ranges from backcountry ATVs/snowmobiles etc). But trees don’t grow back overnight. By the time the habitat is restored, there will be no caribou left.

          We have messed up the ecosystems in so many places as humans. Predator-prey populations are out of whack (with humans at the top). I will continue to pressure government to preserve the Great Bear rainforest (the last great temperate rainforest) and other areas as well. I am pressing foe a science-based ecosystem approach to forestry and wildlife management. You might imagine, this was not an easy decision for me. It is nothing more than an emergency measure. Do I support this approach In general —> absolutely not. Ultimately this is an ethical dilemma. My only wish is that other elected MLAs stood up and stated what they believed instead of cowering away and pretending this ethical dilemma is not facing us.

      • March 19, 2015 at 11:10 am

        Andrew,

        One other quick comment: You do realize that the precipitous decline in the caribou in the South Selkirks began long before wolves began re-colonizing the area after being extirpated – right?

        Cheers…

        Brad

        • March 19, 2015 at 11:18 am

          Yes, because of human destruction of habitat.

          • Lori Wheeler-
            March 22, 2015 at 10:21 pm

            So humans cause the problems that lead to the caribou numbers so low and at risk of being extinct, yet wolves have to pay with their lives because of it. Not right, sorry I still don’t agree with humans interfering with wildlife, we’ve caused enough damage so just leave them alone.
            Although I disagree with your stance on this issue, I’m still a Green Party supporter. You mom was sitting behind me at the volunteer meeting for the Federal Green Party on Sat :)

  5. March 15, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Andrew. Good job.

    Pete Anslow – Not sure why you don’t get this simple reality… human incursion into wild places has disrupted the entire ecosystem. We can’t go back three hundred years, its too late. We MUST manage predators or we WILL lose not just mnt caribou but moose, deer, and elk as well. The cost of transplanting wolves and the likelihood that they would simply start to prey on other species make your idea unworkable.

    We have WAY too many wolves in the Province given today’s landscape.

  6. Chris Bradshaw-
    March 11, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Nick Rothenberg ask a really good question.What are your views on that one

    • March 11, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Hi Chris, not sure what question you are referring to. The comment below doesn’t have a question. Is it on Facebook of HuntingBC.ca. I’m trying to keep up but admit its hard at times.

  7. Bob Loveless-
    March 11, 2015 at 1:00 am

    The government plans to spend 2 million dollars of taxpayers money to slaughter wolves supposedly to save the caribou from extinction. The government is also allowing more cougars to be hunted supposedly to save the caribou. All this killing and money being spent with absolutely no guarantee the caribou will he saved …. there are only 18 left for heavens sake … how many of those are breeding pairs? I have read your links and am still strongly opposed as a taxpayer and nature lover. IMHO this is plain lunacy! Humans have totally screwed up the planet with their extraction, destruction of the rainforest, poaching (including grizzlies in our province) and population increase. Many species, prey and predator are doomed to extinction around the world … mainly do to greed!

  8. Morley Eldridge-
    March 10, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    That is sad news. I congratulate you Andrew on not having a ‘party line’ on this issue and being able to reluctantly agree to the government’s actions. I’ve encountered mountain caribou a few times in my working life and its always such a thrill to see them! They are such an emblem of the pre-industrial north and mountains. Just 200 years ago the populations were robust enough for aboriginal people to be able to construct major drive lanes and corral ‘pounds’ in several parts of BC to regularly harvest them in numbers. And now they are on the brink of extirpation.

  9. Pete Anslow-
    March 9, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Sigh , what I didn’t get from reading through the reports from government is any admission that their own lack of responsible stewardship has caused the required wolf cull, if they had taken this seriously 9 years ago when herds were on the rise and relocated the wolfs instead of waiting and now have no choice but to kill them , again relocation is a better alternative , but it is what is is now and sadly many majestic creatures will be radio controlled and murdered from helicopters

    • March 9, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      I would agree that it most certainly would have been better to not be in the position we are now in.

  10. Nick Rothenburger-
    March 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Andrew,

    I am someone who has a passion for hunting and wildlife conservation. I have been learning more about you since the Thomson Wildlife Allocation Policy was first announced in December 2014. I have been very impressed with your willingness to educate yourself on issues like that as well as the wolf cull.

    As someone whose political views typically lean to the right, I will say that you are definitely gaining support from the hunting community and you have certainly earned my respect.

    Sincerely,

    Nick Rothenburger