B.C.’s torturous wolf management

Wolves are clearly under siege in B.C., largely because of a seat-of-the-pants management approach in which political science trumps biological science. According to the B.C. government, approximately 1,200 wolves were killed deliberately in 2010 by hunters and trappers for sport, trophy or profit.

Although an increasing number of British Columbians are learning about the provincial government’s unscientific and unethical wolf cull, most are likely unaware their tax dollars are supporting not only the killing but also the sanctioned torturing of these animals. To compound matters, the government’s persecution and inhumane treatment of wolves is ostensibly being carried out to “protect” privately owned cattle grazing on provincial Crown land.

Brad Hill, a wildlife photographer and biologist from the Columbia Valley, discovered that the province has been placing wolf neck snares on Crown land near his home. Hill located 18 snares near a bait pile of road-killed elk and mule deer, designed to draw wolves into the area.

Snares are the most inhumane, legally allowed traps in use. The U.S. National Humane Education Society describes snares as primitive and brutal. Snares can catch animals by the neck, midsection, or a limb. As the animal struggles to become free, the wire grows tighter around the animal’s body. This can result in broken legs, crushed organs, and suffocation. Animals caught in these traps die slow, painful deaths.

Moreover, the use of neck snares to kill wolves is another violation by Canada of an international treaty — in this case “The Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards,” which came into force on June 1, 1999. Canada is a signatory to the agreement.

Wolf snare in the snow in the Columbia Valley
Photo by Brad Hill/Natural Art Images

Hill has also learned that the neck snares targeting wolves were placed by provincial conservation officers at the behest of a privately held ranching operation that runs cattle on this particular Crown land. The justification for the snaring is highly dubious with evidence of wolf predation being highly questionable at best.

The threat of wolves to livestock is routinely exaggerated by ranching and trophy hunting interests, despite evidence to the contrary. To put it in perspective, approximately 200,000 head of cattle are run on Crown land in B.C.; government records confirm that over the last 12 months 162 depredations can be attributed to all predators, including but not limited to wolves.

“Even if these snares successfully targeted the suspected wolves, the result is morally repugnant and ecologically illogical. But it could easily end up being much worse than that — I’ve recently seen coyote and cougar tracks in the area, and the snares don’t care what animal they strangle to death,” says Hill, who is running an online anti-snaring petition which has garnered over 2,300 signatures.

There is no reliable way to ensure the targeted species is the only one trapped as neck snares and other lethal traps kill indiscriminately. A recent article in the Wildlife News revealed “for the last two years, since wolves in the Northern Rockies were delisted (in the U.S.), wolf trappers in Idaho have killed approximately 177 wolves (via snaring and other trapping methods). However, during just the 2011/2012 trapping season these trappers have captured approximately 246 non-target animals.”

In a seminal paper published in the journal Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation Foundation large carnivore scientists Drs. Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont wrote that “In most parts of North America where wolves persist, human disturbance has already, or is now, displacing wolves from favourable habitat. Additional disturbances, additive to current background disruption, may surpass the level of habituation or innate behavioural plasticity that allows wolves to cope with human encroachment.”

The direct killing of wolves, whether by snaring, trapping or trophy hunting is a harsh addition to the numerous and significant challenges Canis lupus already faces in a human-dominated landscape.

“The province’s primary conservation philosophy regards wolves as a dispensable ‘resource’ or as ‘problem animals’, which should be exploited and killed with little regard for the pain and suffering they might endure. Rather than being dedicated to the promotion of a responsible wildlife ethic and contemporary principles of wildlife conservation, government agencies are the primary enablers in the legalized destruction of wolves,” states Paquet, in response to the latest wolf snare revelations.

Wolves are clearly under siege in B.C., largely because of a seat-of-the-pants management approach in which political science trumps biological science. According to the B.C. government, approximately 1,200 wolves were killed deliberately in 2010 by hunters and trappers for sport, trophy or profit. This staggering death toll is recklessly taken from an unknown population of wolves, but is allowed to occur in order to mollify special interests, including ranchers and trophy hunters. The emerging snare controversy in the Columbia Valley is a preview of things to come if the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources’ “Draft Management Plan For The Grey Wolf In British Columbia” is actually put into practice.

A few days ago Hill was informed by his MLA’s constituent office that the snares on Crown land near his home have been removed. He’s just posted an eloquent account at the Nature Photographer’s Network website about his neck snare discovery and his efforts to stop the killing. Here is an excerpt of his reaction to the news that these inhumane devices are, at least temporarily, inactivated:

“That felt good. But not nearly as good as when I traveled to the snare site the next morning to confirm the removal of the snares and found the area absolutely littered in wolf tracks — and, most critically, found the snares gone. I felt the best when I looked up on the hillside above the snares and saw five wolves emerge from the forest, stop and lock their eyes on me for about a few seconds, and then turn and disappear into the woods. It’s a small victory. We made the government blink. They noticed, and they tried to defuse the situation. In all likelihood we saved between one and five wolves, at least for awhile.We haven’t done anything yet to stop the future use of killing neck snares in BC, or to make the powers-that-be reconsider their strategy for managing wolves and other apex carnivores in BC. The big fight — the one where we convince the government to discard historical bias and actually look at the science — is still to come.”

A version of this article was previously published at The Huffington Post on March 5, 2013.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.