The number of wolves killed in the Revelstoke area in a program designed to aid endangered mountain caribou now sits at 29.
In 2015, the B.C. forests ministry began a wolf removal program in several areas of B.C. in an effort to help recover endangered mountain caribou populations. The ministry cited studies that showed 40 per cent of deaths of adult caribou that the government investigated were caused by wolves.
The program uses helicopter-based teams to locate and kill the wolves in several areas in B.C.. In the South Peace, they are Narraway, Kennedy Siding, Klinse-Za (Moberly), and Quintette. Revelstoke is the most recent addition to the wolf removal program. The first kills in B.C. started 2015, but the program didn’t commence in the Revelstoke area until 2017. In that year 11 were killed in the Revelstoke area, and 18 more in 2018, for a total of 29 in the Revelstoke area.
Provincially, the program has killed 519 wolves since 2015.
The government estimates the “median” total wolf population in B.C. to be about 8,500, but admits to not having a good understanding of the exact number, which could be much higher or lower. The province’s wolf removal program removed the equivalent of 6.1 per cent of the total “median” wolf population over the past four years.
The B.C. government is calling the program a success, citing mountain caribou population increases. A forests ministry spokesperson said the Klinse-Za herd has increased by 57% since the program started, and prior to that, the heard had been declining about 5–7% annually. The Kennedy Siding and Quintette herds are increasing by 9% annually, and their populations have both increased since the program started, by 32% and 26%, respectively. The wolf kill intervention was one of several recovery measures taken during that period. The Columbia North herd population is listed as stable.
The aerial wolf removal program is one of the most controversial parts of efforts to recover mountain caribou populations. Opponents argue the action is an unnatural intrusion on the natural environment that has unwanted side effects, such as disrupting the role wolves play in the ecosystem. They also argue the government should place emphasis on other recovery options, such as restricting forestry, resource projects, and backcountry recreational use. Proponents of the program argue it’s an unfortunate but necessary interim intervention needed to help recover herds of mountain caribou that face extirpation.
A Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development spokesperson said the wolf removal is, “absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these iconic and culturally significant animals. The cessation of the maternity penning project shows how important it is to continue the predator management program in the area to ensure the Columbia North herd does not lose any caribou.”
In February of 2017 the provincial government announced plans for a provincial caribou recovery program, which is budgeted to cost $27 million. That plan was scheduled for initial public unveiling in late 2017 or early 2018, but has now been pushed back.
The new caribou recovery program is expected to have impacts on backcountry recreation and forestry operations in the Revelstoke area, but the extent won’t be known until the plan is revealed.
The province is acting under pressure from the federal government, which has threatened to step in using federal species at risk legislation, a move that would likely mean even greater restrictions on current backcountry use than under a provincial mountain caribou recovery scheme.