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Over the last few months British Columbia’s controversial wolf cull has been the subject of substantial public dialogue. Like most MLAs, I receive ongoing communication from numerous British Columbians questioning the rationale behind the government’s approach. One of the most recent communications I received was from a young woman named Katie. She started off her email saying:

“My name is Katie, and I oppose the wolf cull. In school we learned about predator prey relationships. I know you probably won’t care, and that the government will go ahead with it anyway, but please read this…”

I found her email to be a source of inspiration. Despite her apparent cynicism towards politicians, she took the trouble to express her concerns to me (even though she is not a constituent). Her email struck a chord. I campaigned on a promise of evidence-based decision-making and giving youth in our society, the generation that will have to live the consequences of the decisions my generation is making, a voice in the legislature.

The BC NDP have not contributed anything of significance to this issue. Instead, when questioned they offer up a sense of vague disappointment and an endorsement of “long term habitat protection.” Habitat protection is vital of course, especially for herds that are still relatively healthy, but if that is the only policy we offer the threatened mountain caribou they will all be dead by the time the trees grow back.

The policies that the B.C. Liberals are putting forward are concerningly intertwined with the interests of industry and lack safeguards that would ensure other herds do not follow the South Selkirk and South Peace mountain caribou to the brink of extirpation.

As a member of the legislature it is my job to do more than outright oppose policies I don’t like. I need to be able to substantially contribute to the debate and provide feasible solutions and alternatives. So, I got my office to research the topic, and threatened species management more generally, in great detail. Our subsequent analysis derived from a literature review and many hours of discussions with scientists, including wildlife biologists who have expertise in the area.

When you start rationalizing culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside the science. Is it ever justifiable to kill one animal in the name of saving another? Science can never answer that question.

Let one of those species become threatened and your situation becomes immensely worse. Ethically, the wolf cull is a horrible response to an ecosystem out of balance. From a management perspective, we need to focus on endangered mountain caribou and the logging practices that got them to where they are today.

Before humans began changing the North American landscape, woodland caribou’s range extended largely across Canada. While northern subpopulations of caribou once roamed in massive herds numbering in the thousands, mountain caribou have always been more sparsely distributed. Mountain caribou survive on a lichen-rich diet, especially in winter months, a food source that is intricately linked to old growth forests. As industrial development and logging activities began to fragment their old growth forest ecosystems, mountain caribou populations began to destabilize. Not only has logging demolished much of their habitat directly, the associated road networks and areas of new growth forest have also brought an influx of moose and white-tailed deer into the ecosystem. Populations of wolves then followed the moose and deer (their primary prey) and caribou (their secondary prey) are now being killed as bycatch. We are scrambling to save herds of mountain caribou on the brink of extirpation because we weakened their natural habitat and made them vulnerable to increased predation. Of this, there is no disagreement within the scientific community.

The future for these threatened caribou is not looking promising; climate change is altering food supplies and habitat conditions, industrial activities are unbalancing ecosystem composition, and human settlement is concentrating the necessity of protected wilderness.

As per requirements enforced under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, the province has protected 2.2 million hectares of forest from logging and road building where populations of caribou are classified as threatened. These areas have immeasurable value for preserving British Columbia’s biodiversity, especially in light of ongoing global warming. But these areas, a substantial fraction of which are old growth, also have substantial commercial value.

Recent Freedom of Infomation documents reveal that the B.C. Liberals met with forest industry representatives when developing plans to save endangered caribou. The Minister of Environment said it is common practice to consult all stakeholders, but I worry that industrial pressures are playing too big a role in habitat allocation. My concern, that I raised last week during Question Period in the British Columbia Legislature, is that vast tracts of forests will stop being preserved the moment the threatened caribou herds go extinct. With their death, the protection of their habitat will no longer be enforceable under the Species at Risk Act.

We need to protect as much land as possible from all human activities so remaining wildlife populations have the space and resources needed to respond to predation and food supply challenges. The cost of restricting industrial development in B.C.’s forests would be expensive in terms of lost revenue, but it would save us having to micromanage every dwindling species.

Where is our provincial government on species protection? Shockingly, we are one of only two provinces (the other being Alberta) that don’t even have any endangered species legislation. Protecting more habitat for our biological diverse ecosystems should be the goal, and creating a provincial endangered species act would be a good place to start.

At the same time, it’s crucial that critical environmental issues are not framed simplistically. There are very real consequences to allowing caribou herds to become extirpated. And one of the most profound of these will be the subsequent logging of remaining stands of British Columbia’s old growth timber.


  1. Katrin-
    November 2, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Thank You Andrew for showing that this issue is more complex that many realize. Along with protecting the caribou’s habitat I suggest that the companies that are responsible for reducing the caribou’s habitat be legislated to help out with the caribou maternity pens that have been established. The South Peace maternity pens have had some success but do cost money to operate. Since it is required by law for forest companies to replant the areas they have logged wouldn’t it be suffice to say that they should also be required by law to help increase the caribou populations that are affected by their logging activities. I would also include the gas and oil sector as well.

    • Doug Bannert-
      November 4, 2015 at 8:03 am

      From what I heard, the calving pens worked well until they released the heard. then the wolves and G bears moved in and ate them all.

  2. Wendy Welch-
    November 2, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for posting my comment and taking the time for such a prompt reply. At further risk of sounding naive, I wish that old growth trees themselves could be considered a “species at risk” and would be covered by the Act. It seems a shame that these forests can only be saved by placing value on the large animals that live in them. The trees themselves should be worth saving. I appreciate the work you are doing and that you are writing on these important issues.

    • November 2, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      I agree with you Wendy.

  3. Wendy Welch-
    November 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Dear Andrew,
    I don’t think it is being simplistic to not want the wolf cull. I don’t understand how one chooses to protect one species over another. Killing wolves to save caribou doesn’t make sense to me. Cougars also kill caribou, do we need to kill cougars as well? Wolves live in packs and randomly killing wolves from helicopters does much more damage than the deaths of individual animals; it disrupts entire communities that probably never can recover. Alberta’s wolf cull had virtually no effect on the caribou population. There are lots of scientific reasons why this cull is a bad idea, none of them “simplistic”. I am not a scientist, so I provide information by scientist and biologist Dr Paul Paquet: http://www.raincoast.org/2015/02/wolf-and-caribou-management-backgrounder/.
    Surely there is another way to prevent logging on old growth timber than killing wolves from helicopters? Why can’t there be legislation to protect the remaining old growth forest whether or not it has caribou in it? It seems to me that everything is ultimately about money. Caribou are worth more money than wolves so they get to be the species we choose to protect.

    • November 1, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Wendy, that link you showed me is hopelessly naive. The Selkirk and South Peace herds will be extinct within a year or two unless something is done immediately .As I noted in my earlier post, a cull is only one of many options. What is clear is that natural habitat must be preserved. And much has been. But by the time it grow back, the caribou will grow extinct. I actually don’t go to Raincoast for scientific analysis. I find their work to be unbalanced and more along the lines of advocacy rather than science. The old growth is being protect only because of the Species at Risk Act.