British Columbia crying wolf

Reading Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf may have led to a better policy for saving caribou

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Barry Wilson
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SALMON ARM, BC, Jan 19, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Most of the media reports I have seen on B.C.’s planned wolf cull are giving the public the wrong impression. What I have been hearing on radio, TV and online news is that the B.C. government has announced it will be shooting 184 wolves from helicopters in the South Peace and Selkirk areas of B.C. before snowmelt this spring because, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • BC caribou herds are shrinking to dangerously low levels
  • Wolves eat caribou
  • Therefore, the B.C. is killing wolves to save the caribou herds.
Crying wolf won’t save caribou

The stories position the narrative as a “war on wolves” to save the helpless caribou. It’s a play on old fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. And this gets people all riled up, as well they should be.

But people shouldn’t get upset that biologists believe we have no choice but to kill a relatively small number of localized wolf packs as an emergency measure. Rather, they should be upset because we do not have the will to do what is necessary to maintain adequate caribou habitat and, most importantly, to keep people and apex predators – that is, predators with no natural predators of their own – out of the area. Check the press release backgrounders and you will see that this is known and documented.

crying wolf
The real issues behind the decline in caribou populations are not addressed

Instead of playing on fairy-tales, we should be reflecting on stories like Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, in which he tells how ,in the late 1940’s, the Dominion Wildlife Service assigned him to investigate the cause of declining caribou populations and determine whether wolves are to blame for the shortage.

Mowat discovered that rather than being wanton killers of caribou the wolves subsist quite heavily on small mammals such as rodents and hares, “even choosing them over caribou when available.” He concludes: “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be: the mythologized epitome of a savage, ruthless killer – which is, in reality, not more than the reflected image of ourselves. We have made it the scapewolf for our own sins.”

Habitat degradation and avoidance of what little is left because of human land use and access is the primary cause of the caribou’s predicament – not the presence of wolves. Reporters should be calling a spade a spade – the public deserves to have an informed discussion. Legislated approval processes and statutory decision makers have made trade-offs on the public’s behalf – making resource extraction and unfettered access to recreational opportunities everywhere in the province the dominant priority, while risk to natural capital values such as species at risk have been evaluated to be “acceptable” or “within tolerance limits”.

Human footprint development, particularly linear features and high elevation developments, are creating transportation highways for wolves to get to caribou where they would have previously not gone because the forest itself would have been a barrier. And mountain caribou don’t like hanging out with us. Human access by snowmobiles, ATV’s, even hikers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers to habitat results in caribou avoiding the little bit they do still have.

Biologists think the cull is the only way to avoid extirpation in the short term, so maybe this is the best short-term emergency measure. But if the real issues are not addressed, this will accomplish nothing but delay the inevitable.

Humans main cause of declining caribou population

Unintended consequences are occurring because comprehensive holistic cumulative effects analyses are not being employed to measure and evaluate the benefits and costs of simultaneous human land use like oil and gas exploration

and development, surface mining, forestry, transportation, wind energy, agriculture, forest fire suppression, tourism and recreation and human settlement along with climate change and natural disturbance. The tools and processes to analyze these system dynamics already exist and are being applied in many jurisdictions in the world.

It is time for B.C. to catch up and for the public to have an opportunity to engage in understanding the trade-offs that may be necessary in order to address the primary causal agents of crises like declining caribou populations – humans.

Barry Wilson is a Systems Ecologist with ce analytic.

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5 Responses to "British Columbia crying wolf"

  1. VincentAKennard   January 20, 2015 at 12:23 am

    It would have been a better solution to remove the human activity for a period of time than to wage a war on the wolves that is also a reaction to the human encroachment on the caribou habitat. Thing is BC talks about working on solving the problem but that is not the truth. There are no plans other than the killing of the wolves in place. When the wolves are killed, the caribou will inevitably also disappear. Killing wolves has always been the only solution to the Canadian and in particular BC’s wildlife problems.

  2. Polla   January 21, 2015 at 4:15 am

    People eat caribou, why don’t ban hunting of caribou indefinitely. Wolves are important for a healthy ecosystem. We need to put a stop on hate crimes on wolves.

  3. Thorleif   January 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Very well spoken Mr Wilson. B.C. should address the primary causal agents of crises – humans.

  4. Troy Media   January 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Letter to the Editor:
    I believe that wolves are meant to be on our planet and
    they are good for the eco-system. No animal let alone wolves should be killed
    whatsoever. Linda Davis-James

  5. Troy Media   January 23, 2015 at 5:41 am

    Letter to the Editor:

    Animals are God’s creation and gift to mankind. No animal
    should be killed by man – no matter the reason. Please respect and protect our
    Geraldine Claps

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