Wildlife group calls wolf cull practices into question

As the province shifts the focus of its wolf cull to the South Peace, an environmental group continues to raise questions about the use of a "Judas wolf" to track and kill the predators during last year's cull in the South Selkirk Mountains.

The B.C. government says the wolf cull, part of the Caribou Recovery Plan, will help mitigate risks to dwindling caribou populations in both regions.

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The Wildlife Defence League (WDL) claims the cull involves a lone radio collared wolf  — named after the biblical story of the disciple Judas — that is reportedly left alive and tracked so it can lead hunters to its pack.

"This solitary wolf would be tracked as he instinctively (searches) for a new family, only to be traumatized yet again as his new pack is slaughtered before his eyes," the League wrote in a a Feb. 27 release.

"The (B.C. government) have publicly stated that their wolf cull is being conducted in a humane manner, but the information uncovered during our field campaign contradicts such a claim."

The WDL was referring to unconfirmed recordings it released last month of a conversation its operatives had with a worker in the Caribou Recovery Program that described how a so-called "Judas" wolf is used.

In an email exchange with the Alaska Highway News, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations spokesperson Greig Bethel denied the group's claims.

"The Wildlife Defence League is incorrect," he wrote. "There was not a lone collared wolf left behind last year as a 'Judas' wolf."

Bethel however did confirm that wolves will be radio collared during the South Peace cull, but that their movements are only being tracked to see if they were entering caribou habitats.

"The ministry is only removing wolves that pose an active threat to endangered mountain caribou," Bethel wrote. "Radio collars transmit the wolves' movements and let ministry biologists know whether wolves are in the core caribou habitat."

On Feb. 23, WDL released audio and transcripts it says prove the government's use of a Judas wolf.

In the recordings, which Alaska Highway News was not able to independently verify, field operatives with WDL speak to an unnamed man in the South Selkirk region who identifies himself as a retired wildlife patrol guide working on the province's Caribou Recovery Program.

The man describes the process of how a wolf is radio collared and used to lead hunters to the pack.

"They just left one with a radio collar on and then they can buzz in (and) see if he's got new recruitment," he said. "You got a radio collar on it and they know where the one is at and they leave that one with a radio collar to live and now they can come back and (see) OK, he's got buddies, better take them out."

Tommy Knowles, campaign director with WDL, said in an email that the group will not be conducting its own investigations in the South Peace as it did in the South Selkirk, because of the "complicated political situation."

"(The) West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations support the wolf cull," he wrote. "We recognize that their traditional territory encompasses the area where the cull is taking place and without consent, we didn't feel like it was right to campaign there."

Knowles added his organization recognizes the important role caribou play in the traditional culture of Indigenous people in British Columbia.

"Still, we adamantly disagree with the wolf cull as a tactic to recover the endangered herds and believe that only habitat protection and restoration will bring caribou back to sustain a healthy population," he wrote.

Knowles said despite the government's stated role in protecting caribou, it has allowed industrial development to "decimate critical caribou habitat."

The wolf cull is already underway in the South Peace near Chetwynd. The ministry says it will not report the results until the spring.

In late November 2015, Saulteau First Nations Chief Nathan Parenteau told the Alaska Highway News that he supports the cull.

"Moose, caribou, everything is getting hammered by (wolves), " he said during a signing ceremony with provincial government ministers.

"It's a matter of balance," he added. "We've put it into an area where it's unbalanced, now we have to bring that balance back. Part of that may be a cull."

The wolf cull is entering its second year and is planned to last five years. The cull will be reviewed after four years.

In 2015, the ministry says 73 wolves were removed in the South Peace, short of it's original goal of 160.

"The original removal goal was an estimate of the maximum number of wolves that might be removed, not a quota," Bethel wrote.

He said the number of wolves to be removed in 2016 and in future years will depend on how quickly wolves re-populate the areas and how effective the program is.

Bethel says the ministry will not be releasing the name of the contractor it has hired to carry out the wolf cull in the South Peace due to "threats to personal safety of those involved in caribou recovery/wolf removal activities."

There are seven herds of caribou populations in the South Peace: the Quintette, Moberly, Scott, Kennedy Siding, Burnt Pine, Narraway and Graham.


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