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B.C. Wolf Management Plan Scapegoats Carnivores

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Looking back at the year in wildlife management policy for 2012 in B.C., the low point just might have been the rollout of the "Draft Management Plan for the Grey Wolf in British Columbia" by the provincial government's Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.

This is a deeply flawed management plan that contains many scientifically unsound and uninformed objectives. The plan also represents an exaggerated view of the impacts of wolves on both the livestock industry as well as hunting opportunities, while failing to consider the many ecological and economic benefits of having significant wolf populations in B.C.

Further, the recommended management strategies inappropriately conflate and confuse "management" of wolves with conservation of wolves, not recognizing there is a difference between ensuring the mere existence of populations versus the persistence of populations. The measure of successful wolf management should include the presence of wolf packs with intact social relationships, rather than just the presence of wolves on the landscape.

To make matters worse, there is little evidence that the best available science informed the development of the proposed management framework or was incorporated into the plan itself — a requisite according to the ministry.

The scientific literature cited and used to support the proposed management strategies is noticeably deficient, particularly relating to conservation of wolves and contemporary conservation science. The superficial use of literature and failure to cite and consider relevant peer reviewed publications suggests carelessness, a lack of necessary proficiency and knowledge, or an agenda that predetermined the content of the management plan.

Despite rhetoric about conservation, the main thrust of B.C.'s wolf management plan is clearly killing predators with the goal of reducing predator impacts on huntable species like moose, elk and deer, plus contributing to a presumed reduction in livestock conflicts on public lands. Any rational review of the impact of wolves on B.C.'s hunting opportunities, as well as livestock industry, would demonstrate that there is no "problem" in need of solving. Rationality, however, long ago ceased to be the currency of wildlife management policy in B.C.

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Raincoast Conservation Foundation is strongly opposed to any increase in wolf hunting and/or trapping, and recommends that B.C. revamp and reconsider the fundamental assumptions behind hunting and killing predators.

Conservation and wildlife management are in a period of profound change. However, many government agencies are not in sync with contemporary public and scientific opinion. And as is often the case, change is being met with reluctance and foot-dragging, rather than innovation and adaptation.

Public sentiment now demands that those involved with the management of wolves must consider a wide range of interests that often appear to conflict with one another. These interests include wildlife conservation, biological diversity, and the welfare of animals on the one hand, and the exploitation (i.e., killing) of wildlife for purposes of recreation and livelihood on the other.

At minimum, a conservation plan for wolves in B.C. should include establishment of protected areas for wolves. The B.C. Ministry of Environment has an unfulfilled initiative that advocated the creation of "preservation areas" that are "remote and of sufficient size to ensure the long-term viability of wolves." In these areas, wolves were not to be killed, and the primary objective was to "maintain viable populations of wolves in their natural state." Moreover, another ministry publication noted, "the ecosystems that offer the best opportunities for the continued existence of these wolf-ungulate populations are those which have not yet been substantially altered by human development."

The proposed wolf management plan is simply a continuation of the tired old school anti-predator approach in which scapegoating large carnivores is the default strategy. For instance, the province myopically chooses to focus on the proximate causes of caribou decline, while deliberately refusing to address the ultimate causes — namely human caused disturbance and degradation to caribou habitat.

The B.C. government claims to use the "best available science" in wildlife management decisions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly, relevant science is ignored because it refutes the legitimacy of many of the province's management prescriptions.Implying that indiscriminate hunting and trapping will reduce human conflicts with wolves directly contradicts contemporary wildlife science, which shows that hunting and trapping of predators exacerbates, rather than reduces, human-wildlife conflicts. Why is the province failing to use science in their management decisions? One can only conclude that they have been successfully lobbied and manipulated to represent the narrow interests of trophy hunters, guide outfitters, and livestock industry.

A blatant example of the B.C. government's wolf management by improvisation is their current announcement declaring an open hunting season in response to the return of wolves to the Okanagan region.

With an emphasis on killing wolves as its primary management tool, the draft plan has created an atmosphere in which perverse enterprises such as wolf killing derbies are seen as a reasonable response in some quarters. That said, the proposed wolf-killing contest in northeast B.C. is not only unethical and immoral, this macabre activity scrapes the bottom of the barrel in terms of human behaviour and speaks ill of British Columbians' relationship to wildlife.

In a larger sense, to continue in this day and age to intentionally impose terrible suffering and death on highly intelligent and sensitive animals, such as wolves and other large carnivores, for purposes of amusement and recreation can be seen as a nadir for humanity.

This article was co-authored with Raincoast Conservation Foundation senior scientist Dr. Paul Paquet. A version of this article previously ran in the Victoria Times Colonist.