Right or wrong? Even science can’t decide on the B.C. wolf cull.

Photo: cosmic_kid99, flickr creative commons.

Photo: cosmic_kid99, flickr creative commons.

The provincial government’s order to cull 184 wolves throughout the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace region is in effect. Experts and political officials believe that the targeted removal will help ease the predation of the South Selkirk caribou herd, in imminent danger of extinction.

With a plan to be carried out before the snow melts in the region, public opposition presses a debate over the effectiveness of the plan. Are wolves paying the price for human encroachment? 

Conservationists argue that the plan sidetracks efforts to mitigate human impacts on the caribou’s habitat. Ian McAllister, conservation director for Pacific Wild, has publicly argued that it is unjustifiable to cull wolves in the absence of habitat protection from oil and gas development. “This is truly a war on wolves in British Columbia," he told CBC News.

Academics and activists further question the validity of the government’s data and the long-term viability of the plan. The wolf cull commits the government of up to 60 or more years of intervention, since it takes decades for caribou herds to recover while new wolves fill the gap left by ones the ministry kills. Sadie Parr, the director of Wolf Awareness Inc., recently explained this to the Tyee, arguing the plan is scientifically unsound.

Those in favour of the wolf cull emphasize the caribou’s dwindling numbers. Only 18 remain amongst the Selkirk herd. Wolves are partially to blame, causing two caribou deaths in the past 10 months. Although alternative efforts to restore the caribou’s old-growth habitat are in place, time is running out. Previous attempts to control the wolf population have failed, and due to their growing numbers, grey wolves are no longer categorized as an “at risk” species.  Rather, their status is of “least concern.”

The ministry defends its credibility, explaining that all operational plans have been fully peer-reviewed, and that the cull will be made in partnership with Treaty 8 First Nations.

Being from the United States, I am no stranger to the negative stigma wolves carry in North America. A recent reminder was an anti-wolf campaign I came across while researching the BC cull.  Displayed on billboards across Washington State are pictures showing a child and dog, and the headline, “The Wolf: Who’s Next on Their Menu?” leaving little to the imagination.  

In his recent article for Outside Magazine, Elliot Woods traces the schizophrenic nature of wolf management in the United States. After a massive poisoning campaign in the 1900s to clear land for farm animals and a subsequent reintroduction into national parks, now taxpayers spend millions of dollars to restore wolves under the Endangered Species Act, only to have hunters start blowing them away as soon as they are delisted.

It seems as if the future of wolves relies more on our emotional conceptualizations of these animals rather than science. And, although wildlife population numbers indicate management progress, the willingness to support wolf kills rather than adjust our own actions makes me wonder if their future will be as promising as conservationists once hoped.  

Arthur Middleton, postdoctoral fellow at Yale describes an encounter with five wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The experience left an impression, as he laments, “this animal doesn’t need our stories… it just needs us to see it, someday, for what it really is.”
 
As I reflect on his article, I think Middleton’s statement extends to the human race too. We need to see ourselves for what we really are - the world’s most successful apex predator.