Wolves are becoming the scapegoats while the biggest threat to all wildlife around the world is habitat loss, said Sadie Parr of Wolf Awareness who made a presentation in front of a full house at the Scout Island Nature Centre Wednesday.
Responding to the B.C. government’s plan to shoot up to 184 wolves by helicopter to protect dwindling caribou herds in the East Selkirks and South Peace, Parr said many biologists have told her if wolves are killed, none of the caribou are going to recover because they don’t have the habitat that’s required.
“Caribou need old growth forests and are at risk of becoming extinct because of what we have done, not because of what wolves have done,” she said.
What has been protected for caribou is small and fragmented, while climate change, logging, recreation and new roads have also had huge impacts, she continued.
For more than a decade Parr has being researching wolves and is dismayed that in Canada they can still be hunted, baited and trapped in most jurisdictions.
“B.C. has no bag limits, you can kill as many as you like, and only three regions have mandatory reporting,” she said. “Our management of wolves has not kept up with our understanding of them.”
Several ranchers affected by wolf predation on livestock took the time to attend the presentation, including Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association president Cuyler Huffman.
Echoing some of Parr’s frustrations, Huffman said deforestation in the Cariboo Chilcotin has opened up the country so that wolves can get ungulates.
“The ungulate populations have crashed where wolf populations have exploded so that’s where a lot of conflict is coming with ranchers in the area with predation on our cows.”
Huffman said he can’t think of one rancher who isn’t a conservationist.
“None of us want to have this problem. It’s economic, plus none of us really have the time or really want to put the effort in to kill these wolves,” he said. “I see a collaborative effort as well, but finding the answers soon enough so that we can stay in business is the challenge.”
Parr told the crowd that wolf populations increase when there’s indiscriminate killing of them.
“When we have a stable family with one breeding pair that gets disrupted and separates, the pack goes from one breeding pair to potentially seven or eight wolves that are now looking to breed.”
The population is skewed down to teenagers who don’t necessarily know the rules and are not sufficient hunters.
“They might start taking advantage of livestock if it’s in an area they overlap with.”
Evidence during the last 25 years has shown that killing wolves results in higher numbers of wolves and more livestock losses the following year.
Parr shared a guide for ranchers on wolf management that includes the use of putting fladry — red ribbons — on fencing to deter wolves.
The ribbons dangle at a certain height above the ground.
Originally fladry was used as a tool to funnel wolves to trap them, now they are using it to keep wolves away from livestock, she said.
Another method is using range riding to ensure a human presence on the landscape two times a day.
“One place in the U.S. has tourists paying to ride the horses in the chance that they might see a wolf and at the same time protect livestock.”
Huffman told Parr a lot of range riding already goes on in the region.
“We move our cattle on vast ranges, that’s one of the things that’s unique about this area,” Huffman said. “I can see things like flandry working in a confined area, but it’s not feasible on hundreds of thousands of acres.”
Recently Parr has been examining the dietary habits of wolves in the Brittany Triangle region of the Chilcotin for the Xeni Gwet’in, Friends of Nemiah Valley and the Valhalla Wilderness Society.
Using scat collection, remote cameras, tracking, hair collection and working with communities, she said she hopes to determine what wolves are eating.
So far she’s only been able to gather 26 scat samples and said she needs 300 scat samples for proper research.
“Wolves are spread out a lot more in that region and I’m finding less scat than I am used to, but I can tell you they are eating wild horses.”