A wolf cull to protect the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou herd, now in the final stages of approval, would kill at least 80 per cent of the wolves in the area through aerial hunting, according to the province.
“The recommendation is in the final stages of approval,” said Dawn Makarowski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “We anticipate it will start this winter.”
The Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou herd — located within 17,000 square kilometres of the Nechako Plateau area and eastern slopes of the Coast Mountains, approximately 140 km south of Smithers and 180 km west of Prince George — has declined by about 12 per cent each year between 2015 and 2018, according to the ministry.
Declines in caribou populations have been ultimately attributed to direct and indirect effects of human activities and climate change.
When forests are disturbed, through industrial activity or wildfires, the regenerating vegetation is initially dominated by shrubs, which are prime food for moose and white-tailed deer. These increases in moose and deer in turn support a high number of predators, according to the province.
High numbers of wolf, the primary predator of caribou in B.C., are associated with declining caribou populations.
“This is clearly the case for the Tweedsmuir-Entiako, Hart Ranges and Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herds, where predation by wolves is a key cause of caribou mortality,” said Makarowski. “Wolf populations in these areas are far above the level that research tells us is needed to ensure caribou recovery.”
While Environment Canada’s federal caribou recovery plan recommends wolf densities of less than three wolves per 1,000 sq km, the current density within the Tweedsmuir-Entiako caribou survey area is between 21 and 30 wolves per 1,000 sq km.
The ministry has been holding small discussion tables with local governments and Aboriginal communities to ensure government recommendations include local knowledge of caribou.
On Nov. 26, ministry staff provided Burns Lake council with an update by phone on the province’s plans.
Burns Lake Councillor Charlie Rensby, who represents the municipality at caribou recovery discussion tables, said the village “proudly supports science-based wildlife management.”
“Moving forward with this process we are looking to balance the socio-economic needs of the community along with the biodiversity we need in our environment,” said Resnby. “So far we are cautiously optimistic.”
Rensby added the village is just one of many voices — including the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, surrounding Aboriginal communities and local residents — that sit around these discussion tables to represent the Lakes District.
A larger discussion table, which would include representatives from across Central B.C., is anticipated to occur in the summer of 2020.
Makarowski said the wolf cull is an “emergency measure” that’s part of a larger plan to protect B.C.’s caribou, including habitat protection, habitat restoration, maternity penning and supplemental feeding programs.
Based on five years of research on wolf management in a central group, Makarowski said the province has found that wolf populations can rapidly rebound after removal.
British Columbia’s predator control program began in 2015 to address a drastic decline in South Peace and Kootenay caribou herds. According to a recent government report, three of B.C.’s largest Central Mountain caribou herds — Klinse-Za, Kennedy Siding and Quintette — are recovering strongly after the aerial shooting of wolves.
—With files from Tom Fletcher