Looking back at the year in conservation 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 that 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 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 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 there is no “problem” in need of solving.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation is strongly opposed to any increase in wolf hunting 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 synch with contemporary public and scientific opinion. And, as is often the case, change is often 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 public 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.
At minimum, a conservation plan for wolves in B.C. should include establishment of protected areas. The 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.
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.
Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Paul Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.