A wolf-kill contest sponsored by local businesses has provoked outrage in the provincial media and has lead to a steady stream of angry letters to the Alaska Highway News from concerned citizens.
Richard Petersen, a resident of Fort St. John, has become a target of public scorn after comments he made in defense of the contest in a provincial newspaper.
"It's not a contest to exterminate wolves, not an organized thing where we go out and shoot every wolf in the country. If you are driving down the road and see one and you happen to shoot it and you're in this contest, you have a chance to win something," Petersen said in the news article.
The contest is $50 to enter. At the end of the contest, on May 31, the winners will receive prizes ranging between $250 to upwards of $1,000, it has been reported.
The article said that winners are determined by the size of their kill. There is also a booby prize of $150 for the smallest wolf. Other prizes include free taxidermy work and rifles. Each contestant is allowed to submit three wolves for evaluation.
John Marriot, an accomplished nature photographer based in Canmore, Alta. has used his popular photography blog to urge a tourism boycott of the Alaska Highway until the contest is stopped.
In response, The Alaska Highway News has received many letters from British Columbians angered by the wolf-kill contest and, in particular, Petersen's description of himself as a wildlife conservationist.
"Giving a prize for killing the smallest wolf, which would generally be a pup or youngster, leaves me entirely speechless," wrote Catherine E. Fox, barrister and solicitor, in an email.
"I cannot believe that this is being done in this province," wrote Patricia Watson from Lions Bay, B.C. "In protest I will boycott all travel along the Alaska Highway and any businesses that support such an action."
"Sponsoring a contest under the ReMax banner that promotes the indiscriminate killing of wolves and offering prizes for the biggest and the smallest animal killed is absolutely disgraceful!" wrote Ron Robertson from Leduc, Alta.
Petersen would not comment.
A representative, who prefers to remain nameless, from the North Peace Rod and Gun Club, a group which also sponsored the event, said that regardless of the bad press the contest is going ahead as scheduled.
"You need to have permission to hunt on someone's land and hunting regulations mean you can't just pop off the highway and shoot… you have to be at least a kilometre away from the highway… it's not like it's a shoot fest," said the gun club representative.
According to Kevin Boon, general manager of the British Columbia Cattlemen's Association, ranchers are losing 10 to 25 per cent of their cattle to wolf predation.
"We have to start a process of getting rid of some of them to bring the population back to a point where we can coexist," he told the Alaska Highway News in an earlier interview.
"There isn't a cattleman out there who doesn't expect to lose some to them, it's just they can afford the loss of what they are losing."
A provincial Ministry of Agriculture report shows that $63,800 in compensation payments were paid out last to year to provincial ranchers who lost a total of 133 head of cattle.
"My guess is that many people have no idea the effect that these wolves have on people's livelihoods up here," said Blair Lekstrom, MLA for Peace River South.
"I think the issue here that people are concerned about is the use of the word 'contest' but there is no doubt in my mind that we have to take some of the wolves out. I've talked with some ranchers who've lost 10 per cent of their herd to wolves," said Lekstrom.
"There's not a huge margin and profit as far as the cattle industry goes. These people aren't in it for the dollars. It's a way of life but they also can't go broke doing it supplying the food that we all need," said Lekstrom.
According to the government's recently released Management Plan for the Grey Wolf the population of grey wolves in the province is relatively stable, rising from about 8,100 to 8,500 in the past twenty years.
However, they are having an effect on local wildlife. Experts believe wolves accounts for about 75 per cent of adult mortality among caribou in the South Peace.
"I do believe it [the contest] was well intentioned in order to take the number of wolves down somewhat," said Lekstrom.
As co-owner and the retired manager of the Fort St. John Re/Max Action Realty, some of the criticism of Richard Petersen has been directed to that local business.
"It's not affiliated with Re/Max or the City of Fort St. John. It's a private contest with sponsors that needs to be governed or regulated by the province or fed," said Trevor Bolin, the realty company's current Fort St. John branch manager and co-owner.
"Part of the problem is this is something that is not illegal. For them to either personally attack Rich or the Re/Max brand because of his affiliation is wrong … This all got started by people who have no idea about the impact of a large wolf population," said Bolin, who in addition to his day job also serves a city councillor.
He noted that there is not much of a difference between this contest and other popular worldwide shooting competitions, such as hunting for big buck.
"I've definitely fielded a whack of emails and phone calls. I definitely understand that people outside of this area have a problem, with it but if you talk to a farmer or hunter, you're going to hear a different story than what you hear in Vancouver," said Bolin, who added that he is not a hunter.
The wolf management plan included many techniques to reduce the population of wolves in B.C., including shooting them from a helicopter, increasing the length of hunting and trapping seasons and increasing an individual hunter's bag limit.
"It sounds like a really backwards, naïve solution" said Kai Chan, a Canada Research Chair and associate professor at UBC's Institute for Resource, Environment and Sustainability said about the contest. He noted that in many other regions the practice of indiscriminately killing large carnivores to control their population has not worked.
"This is because of wolf population biology," said Chan, "One of the dangers of shooting the wolves is splintering the pack which can lead to more problems such as renegade wolves."
Chan said that in some regions, insurance schemes that minimize the economic risk for ranchers and farmers of losing their livestock have played a role in reducing the number of ranchers who kill predators. He noted that this strategy has worked particularly well in India and resulted in fewer tigers being killed by ranchers.
He also said that there are other more humane and more effective ways for ranchers to manage wolves in a non-lethal way.
"In Idaho they've had a 90 per cent decline in wolf problems. By using behavioural conditioning – loud noises – to scare the wolves away. The idea is that wolves are smart and they are afraid of people. Ranchers can use that to their advantage,” said Chan.
Chris Genovali, executive director at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, says that humans and not the wolves at are at fault for the loss of caribou.
“How we humans are altering the landscape is really the ultimate cause of caribou decline. Whether it’s through logging, building roads and degrading habitat, humans are creating a landscape where it is easier for wolves to predate on caribou. In many areas its not just wolves that are preying on caribou. It's also cougars, grizzly bears and black bears," said Genovali.
Genovali said that the province's new wolf management plan encourages hunters in different regions to kill more wolves, and that wolves are highly complex, highly social, intelligent and sensitive animals that live in family groups.
"I think that when your policy is to kill more wolves, the natural outgrowth of that will be the prize or the wolf-killing derby type of situation."