Government releases wolf management plan

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo


VICTORIA – After an extensive public consultation that revealed strongly differing beliefs and values on the management of wolf populations through 2,500 comments, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources has released the province’s wolf management plan.

In our region, wolves have played a key role in the dwindling population numbers of the Klinse-za northern caribou herd. The West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations have tried to stem the bleeding with the Northern Caribou Maternity Penning project.

In areas where wildlife populations are threatened by wolf predation, the government’s plan commits to responsibly helping stakeholders; ranchers and First Nations, manage the impacts of expanding wolf populations.

Detailed implementation plans which have yet to be developed, will be put in place in these areas and areas where wolves affect livestock, before any actions are undertaken.

“The plan fully recognizes that the fundamental goal of wolf management in British Columbia, as with all other provincial game species, is to maintain self-sustaining populations throughout the species’ range,” the ministry said in a release.

“In most areas, wolf management will be concerned with ensuring that wolves continue to serve their ecological role as a top predator. Sustainable hunting and trapping opportunities will use controls on harvest through specified season lengths and bag limits.”

The plan had undergone a public consultation, with over 2,500 people submitting their comment in writing.

“All submissions were carefully reviewed,” the ministry explained, “and helped inform the final plan.”

The results of the consultation confirm there are strongly differing beliefs and values on the management of wolf populations and re-affirmed for the government, the importance that they make balanced decisions on the basis of sound science.

The plan summarizes the best available scientific information on the biology and threats to the species and informs the development of a management framework. It sets goals and objectives, and recommends approaches appropriate for species or ecosystem conservation.

It indicates that wolf populations are likely stable or increasing throughout the province and are not considered “at-risk”. Quite the opposite, according to local First Nations.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation, in conversation with the Chetwynd Echo, has said that wolf populations in our region have spiked over the last few years.

Willson attributes the population increase to linear disturbances and the creation of “early seral” forests, which are made up of the early growth that takes over after a cutblock has been logged.

A natural resource officer (who withheld his name) adds that snowmobile tracks act like highways for wolves.

He says these forests create prime moose habitat, and that wolves follow the moose into the territory to find not only moose to feed on, but also vulnerable caribou.

As a result the wolf population has exploded.

In turn, the populations of the Klinse-za caribou herd that live near the West Moberly First Nation, have dwindled to less than 20 animals.

A penning project, started by West Moberly, Saulteau First Nations and industry partners, aims to double the population if successful. By watching over the animals until they give birth, they reduce the chance or predation by wolves.

Ten pregnant caribou cows have already been penned and they and their newborn calves will be released in July (see last week’s Chetwynd Echo for the full story.)

During the vulnerable period of pregnancy, caribou are “sitting ducks” for the ever-increasing wolf population.

Yet, government data seems to contrast the empirical evidence. That data states that the current wolf population estimate is about 8,500 which is similar to an earlier estimate of 8,100 in 1991.

The last wolf management plan was prepared in 1979, and the new plan provides a substantive update in the science guiding the conservation and management of wolves.

The BC government says it is committed to ensuring sustainable wildlife populations and healthy predator-prey relationships throughout the province.