Large packs of wolves are feasting on the province’s cattle in alarming numbers, according to ranchers, who claim that mortality rates of cows and calves have doubled over the past year.
The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association estimates the industry is losing up to $15 million a year because of wolf attacks and is calling for a “thinning” of the wolf population in hard hit areas such as the Peace River and Cariboo regions.
The last series of wolf culls in B.C. took place in the mid to late 1980s.
Conservationists shocked by the idea of a cull say wolves should be more protected than they are now and that it’s unfair to blame the nocturnal creature or make them suffer for killing livestock on the basis of unverified claims.
Although B.C. allows hunting and trapping of wolves, the practice is banned in many other parts of the world. Grey wolves are listed as endangered under U.S. state law because they were nearly wiped out a century ago.
Despite their protected status, and in a move that has sparked controversy, Washington’s fish and wildlife department this past week eliminated a wolf pack — known as the Wedge Pack — that has moved south from B.C. because it has been attacking cattle at a U.S. ranch south of Grand Forks.
Here ranchers are calling for a similar plan, arguing that some packs have become habituated to cattle as their main food source; the docile, grazing creature provides a kind of fast food for predators.
It’s much easier to prey on a cow or a calf than to chase caribou, said Kevin Boon, the association’s general manager. Boon is calling on the provincial government to thin the wolf population after he logged a 50 per cent increase in complaints of dead cattle compared with last year.
“I’m getting up to a dozen calls a day,” he said.
A mild winter and an abundant food source have spurred the wolf population to grow, said Boon.
While Boon admits the association doesn’t have proof that the majority of the kills have been done by wolves, he said last year there was only a two to five per cent loss because of sickness, natural causes, theft and predator attacks, while this year the figure is around 10 per cent.
The association has received a high number of calls from local residents saying that they’ve seen packs of wolves — some as high as 20 members — eating the carcass of a cow or calf, he said.
Typically, wolves roam in packs of less than 10, but there can be more in rare cases.
“We haven’t got a smoking gun but the losses are phenomenal and anecdotally, I can say we do know what’s causing it. But it’s really hard to catch (the wolves) in the act.”
Boon wants the province to “bring nature back to a balance” by thinning the population in the regions suffering the most cattle loss. He emphasized that he is not calling for a cull on the entire population, estimated at about 8,500 wolves.
The association also needs to work with the province, he said, to identify which packs of wolves are causing the most problems.
Mike Badry, the wildfire conflicts prevention coordinator with the B.C. ministry of environment, said conservation officers have no plans to cull wolves, even in areas where they have identified a population increase.
However, he said officers will remove individual predators that are known to have killed livestock.
He said the number of proven predator attacks on livestock are expected to be higher than last year, with already 107 verified, compared with 133 for the entire year of 2011.
“So we’re on pace to go well over (133 cases).”
He could not say how many of those cases were wolves, but agreed they do make up the majority of attacks on livestock.
The province launched an experimental wolf control program in the Nimpkish Valley on northern Vancouver Island from in 1982 and another one in 1986 in a bid to increase caribou.
Another cull was conducted in the Kechika and Muskwa areas in northeastern B.C. from 1978 to 1987.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations confirmed there are no plans to launch another cull anytime in the near future.
“While these activities may reduce wolf numbers within specific areas of concern, wolves continue to be managed sustainably within the Cariboo Region as well as other regions where livestock depredation is a concern,” said ministry spokesman Brennan Clarke.
In 2011, Victoria passed legislation to allow ranchers and First Nations in the province’s Cariboo region to kill wolves that might attack livestock, as part of a provincial wolf management plan.
That included a “no bag limit,” additional trapping opportunities on private land and a no closed season for livestock in areas of concern.
Boon said the relaxation of the regulations has been great for ranchers, allowing them to attempt to keep the wolves from attacking their cattle without having to illegally use a firearm.
But it’s not enough, he said. Boon acknowledged that wolf control is a sensitive issue, but said ranchers also feel emotional when they see wolves rip apart their cattle.
“Nature is not kind and when you see a moose with its intestines hanging out while protecting its trying to protect its calf, that hits a nerve. They are all living animals,” he said.
“I believe we can coexist with wolves but it has to be with a balance that we can afford and accept.”
Conservationist Chris Darimont, assistant professor of geography at the University of Victoria called the idea of a wolf cull outrageous.
“They have some of the most liberal regulations on the planet and that they are asking for more suggests this approach does not work,” said.
He said all lethal methods of wolf control are have proven to be ineffective.
“We know that culling attempts are unsuccessful because wolves very good at reproducing or dispersing into other areas so even aggressive persecution simply sets up the context for continued carnivore conflicts,” he said.
The Canadian Wolf Coalition says wolves have a right to exist in B.C. in healthy numbers. The organization is against hunting and trapping, but it says if hunting is permitted it should be based on a “fair chase,” with no aerial hunting or snowmobiles allowed.
Added Darimont: “I’m wary of terms like ‘control’ or ‘thinning’ of the population … the level of suffering involved when individual wolves are killed for the benefit of an an industry that wants to minimize costs leaves me to conclude that this is an amoral option.”
There are non-lethal methods that work really well, he said, but admitted they cost a lot of money including livestock guardian dogs, flagging methods, fencing and having more staff out on the range.
Fences can cost up to $30,000 a kilometre, so a rancher who is already suffering from cattle loss can’t afford to pay millions of dollars, Boon said. He also dismissed guard dogs as working better with sheep than cattle for herding and said adding more workers wouldn’t work either due to a shortage of trained labour.
Besides, he said, no dog would stand a chance protecting a cow against 20 hungry wolves.
In Washington state wildlife officials this week eliminated the Wedge Pack of wolves from B.C.
Phil Anderson, agency director for the Fish and Wildlife Department, said a total of six wolves from that pack were shot and killed by aerial marksmen.
Anderson said the pack needed to be eliminated because it had become dependent on livestock and would continue to attack them. He said that the department will work with ranchers and conservation groups on non-lethal methods to protect cattle.
Since July, Wedge Pack wolves are believed to have killed or injured at least 17 cows and calves from the herd of the Diamond M Ranch of northern Stevens County.
Source: Vancouver Sun