The Northwest Territories government is rushing to hire a helicopter and shooter to start killing up to 300 wolves preying on declining caribou herds.
The aerial cull is part of a wolf reduction plan proposed by the N.W.T. and Tłı̨chǫ governments. They want the wolf populations that prey on the Bathurst and Bluenose East caribou herds reduced by up to 80 per cent. An estimated 420 wolves hunt the herds.
Details of the cull are laid out in a request for tenders for a helicopter, pilot and shooter, that the government published Tuesday.
It says a fixed wing aircraft with spotter will fly over the winter ranges of the herds in the territory’s North Slave region and relay global positioning system coordinates of wolves it spots to the shooter and pilot in the helicopter.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources wants the contract to start on Monday and continue for 10 to 20 days. It is currently working on placing 30 satellite collars on wolves that will give their locations in real time.
The tender also reveals the government’s sensitivity to public perception of the cull. It says the successful bidder is not allowed to take any photographs or video with their own equipment and “under no circumstances” can release them to non-government personnel, media or social media sites.
The request for bids on the project closes Friday.
Shooting wolves from helicopters has proven to be an effective way of reducing wolf numbers but there are questions around how humane it is. A 2015 study of an aerial cull in Alberta concluded that wolves shot from helicopters were not consistently killed humanely.
“Painful injuries and inhumane kills will inevitably occur, even with the hiring of skilled helicopter pilots and proficient shooters,” researchers wrote.
The cull comes after years of increasing restrictions on the hunting of caribou in the N.W.T., including by Indigenous people who have relied on caribou as their main food source for millennia.
“The elders have always said we have to respect the animals, including the wolves,” Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chief Edward Sangris said. “Hunting them from helicopters is not the best method to carry out. But they also said we have to look into the issue of the reducing caribou herd. If it helps, they’re okay with it, but up to a point.”