author and wolf advocate
While the South Purcell mountain caribou herd may be in big trouble, many other species will be as well if wolves are removed from the ecosystem this Spring. A recent article in B.C.’s Daily Bulletin stated that “wolves would have to be killed to ensure their safety”, referring to twenty caribou to be transplanted from northwestern BC into the South Purcell herd. This dwindling herd is located west of Kimberley and Cranbrook, and is down to 15 animals.
Scientific evidence does not support predator control as an effective long-term recovery strategy. Killing wolves is a political decision influenced by corporate and industrial interests . Several renowned biologists do not agree with predator control for various reasons. Several conservation groups across the province also do not accept the killing of wolves while commercial recreation tenures and mineral exploration options persist within identified critical caribou habitat.
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennet stated that he does not support the transplantation of caribou unless predators are also “managed”. This is a slap in the face to the ethical pursuit set forth by Hippocrates to “First, do no harm”. Managing wolves for ecosystem health would mean leaving them alone.
Caribou are extremely sensitive to human disturbances. While augmentation may be necessary at this stage, it will require invasive techniques where northern caribou are trapped, radio-collared, and voyaged to their destination. The plan is to fly in and shoot wolves after a predation event. There is already great public concern over commercial heli-ski tenures in designated caribou habitat. Is the best solution really to “monitor” these animals to death?
While it is a positive step that the Cranbrook Snowmobile Club has voluntarily withdrawn from caribou habitat, this falls short of having a set of clear and enforceable standards for recreational users. Undoubtedly Albertans and visitors from other areas also use the area for snowmobiling, and the Mountain Caribou Project website states that legal snowmobile closures have only occurred in half of identified caribou habitat.
Caribou have developed into the magical creatures they are alongside natural predators such as wolves. They have co-evolved in this way to form seasonal patterns, avoidance strategies, stamina and strength. Predator control in the past has indicated that wolf killing would have to be continued for a very long time after it is initiated to achieve results. How long are we prepared to kill these extremely social and intelligent animals for?
The wolverine is another iconic animal that shares both the area with caribou (due to their huge home ranges), a listing on BC’s Endangered Species Inventory as well as on the IUCN red list (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Wolverines benefit from the presence of wolves in the ecosystem. As do Grizzly Bears, beavers, cougars, and many other species including ungulates. Recall the old Inuit saying “It is the caribou that feeds the wolf, but the wolf that keeps the caribou strong”. As a keystone species, the presence of healthy wolf packs assists the health of other species as well, including insects, birds, large carnivores, ungulates, and even vegetation.
If British Columbia really aims to keep its caribou strong, it could start by putting an end to logging in caribou habitat, creating more mandatory snowmobile closures, enlisting a third party to ensure that commercial recreation rules were being followed, making it mandatory to record new roads and drill sites, and ensuring that connectivity between caribou herds is maintained. While designated No Harvest Zones have been established, they are small and sparse when looking at the big picture. Mountain caribou herds continue to become isolated from each other and unless greater habitat protection comes into play, these zones will become islands of extinction.
Killing wolves is not the solution.