Shooting wolves from a helicopter is one of the options presented by the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations to reduce the overpopulation of the species in the Peace Region.
“Local cattlemen are losing anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 a year because of wolf predation,” said Pat Pimm, MLA for Peace River North.
“Aerial targeting is certainly something that must be considered if you have a serious problem.”
The government is seeking public input into the Wolf Management Plan, but it has already come under fire from critics, such as Shelley Black, co-founder and owner of Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre.
“Now we’re not United States, we’re not Alaska. One of our governors is not Sarah Palin, so why do they think that that’s an ethical form of dealing with a species? That’s barbaric,” said Black.
“We need to make people aware that there’s other ways of protecting our livestock, there’s other ways of dealing with caribou issues.”
The management plan states: “A recent review by the Mountain Caribou Science Team indicated that current predator control efforts are ineffective and costly, and that an aerial wolf reduction program for wolves that threaten caribou herds of fewer than 50 animals should be implemented.”
To Black, this option is not something that should be considered.
“One of the proposals in their management plan is to carry on with aerial shooting. They think it’s ethical to shoot wolves from helicopters,” she said.
However, some believe that aerial targeting is one of the best options.
“I think there will be some possibility of aerial targeting, that’s not something that we’re promoting but there’s a possibility of that as well. That’s part of the fastest and most humane way to mitigate a predator problem,” said Pimm.
Many different groups in the Peace Region, such as cattle ranchers, grain growers, trappers, guide outfitters, the wild life predication committee and First Nations groups, have expressed their concerns to him regarding the rapid growth of the wolf population.
“I truly believe the Wolf Management Plan is absolutely necessary... wolf management is becoming a serious problem throughout the province but in the Peace country it’s extremely serious.”
General Manager of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, Kevin Boon, explained that in some cases aerial
shooting of wolves is the best policy .
“But we have to look at this plan as the overall whole plan and while aerial shooting is a part of that plan, I think it will be very selectively used,” he said. “It’s a tool that when those who do the assessment see that it’s warranted it can be utilized.”
Economic growth can lead to increased wolf numbers. A combination of industry and prey can impact the northern caribou the Peace Region. Currently, the caribou are classified as threatened species due to their declining numbers.
“When we get development, we open up corridors sometimes for other populations of moose and deer, and then following the moose and deer comes the wolves that will prey on those species and then they will prey on the caribou as well,” Environment Minister Terry Lake explained in a previous interview.
“The predators are one thing, but the development on the land base tends to open up some of those areas and make it easier for some of these animals to encroach on the caribou habitat so it’s a combination of things.”
Some people believe that the wolf over-population will balance out naturally and that the increase in predators (such as the grey wolf) means a decrease in prey (such as northern caribou).
“The species will regulate itself,” said Black. “The only reason why we’re seeing spikes of high wolf populations in certain areas is because we have a high prey population in certain areas.”
Black agrees that a management plan is necessary but does not feel that the options here are in the best interests of the province.
“I think that all species needs to have a type of a management plan on it so that we can have a future of having a species but it can’t be one sided and this management plan seems to be one sided,” said Black.
“They are already managed–hunting regulations on the species. It’s pretty much an open season on a lot of them and some of them it’s a 10 month season. This is also the only species that you’re allowed to hunt while they are giving birth and in their gestation period as well,” said Black.
However, the aerial removal of wolves, by shooting them from helicopters, is only one of the ways that the B.C. government is considering to manage this growing wolf population. The plan also suggests changing the length of hunting and trapping reasons or the bag limit, removal of individuals or entire packs, public campaigns and harassment.
“What they’re probably doing in a lot of areas is they’ll be looking at removing bag limits so actually allowing more wolves to be hunted. I think there’s a possibility that they can enhance some of the hunting opportunities.”
Pimm explained that trapping wolves is something that is no longer worthwhile because the price of pelt is too low for the trappers to make a profit hunting them.
“We may have to eject some funds into that area so that we can help our trapping industry and also help mitigate the problem,” explained Pimm.
“It’s a plan,”said Boon.
“I think it’s still fairly soft, I think that there’s areas that we’re going to have strengthen and it will depend on just exactly how the evaluation system works. However, I think that the fact that they have put together a plan and it’s a draft plan and [the public] will have opportunity to comment on it and hopefully refine it a little bit is a very positive step forward,”
While Pimm admitted that this is a hotly contested issue, he still maintains that the plan is needed.
“I know it’s controversial, but the problem is we have to be able to save our livelihoods too.”