By: Dene Moore, The Canadian Press
100 MILE HOUSE, B.C. – The chief of the Tsilhqot’in Nation says he is concerned about the toll the region’s abundant wolf population could have on wild horses and endangered caribou this winter.
The B.C. government made a controversial decision earlier this year to lift hunting restrictions and keep the wolf hunt open in the Chilcotin region because of concerns about the number of cattle and wildlife falling prey.
Critics say the open hunt is a reckless decision not based on science, but Tsilhqot’in Chief Joe Alphonse said even the hunt is not enough and the government should go further. He’d like to see the province contract trappers and put a bounty on wolves on the plateau west of the Fraser River in central B.C.
“As First Nations people we have great respect for wolves but you have to keep things in balance,” Alphonse said in a recent interview.
“Eventually things will balance out,” but in the meantime caribou, cattle and wild horses will pay the price, he said.
This summer, the Ministry of Forests and Lands eliminated any bag limit and ordered the wolf hunt season to stay open indefinitely in the area – an approach already in place in several other areas of the province. Provincial officials are adamant it is not a cull and say the wolf population is at a historic high, and both ranchers and area First Nations support the open hunt.
Alphonse said low prices for wolf pelts means an open hunt won’t be enough to entice hunters and trappers to reduce the numbers of the pack.
Members of his band have noticed increased wolf predation on the wild horse population of the Chilcotin, as well as predation on caribou and cattle.
“I think, in the long run, if we don’t intervene, the animals themselves are going to suffer…. The animals will end up starving to death.”
Joe Scott, international program co-ordinator for the group Conservation Northwest, said wolves have a key role to play in a balanced ecosystem, and he was surprised that anyone would advocate a bounty hunt.
In some isolated cases where small herds of mountain caribou are at immediate risk, his group supported targeted culls of wolves known to prey on the herds. The technique has been used in B.C. and Alberta on a case-by-case basis and is under consideration by the federal Environment Ministry to protect threatened mountain caribou. But even then, it’s a short-term solution, he said.
“You can’t just kill wolves. You have to deal with the ultimate causes that put these animals in danger in the first place,” Scott said, citing habitat damage from human activity.
David Williams, president of the group Friends of Nemaiah Valley, which advocated for a wild horse sanctuary and continues to monitor the herd, said there is wolf predation but “it’s not a bad thing, ecologically speaking.”
Williams said there is a built-in bias against wolves, which were hunted to extinction throughout most of the United States and near extinction in much of Canada by the 1950s before measures were put in place to protect these top-tier predators.
“What effects them much more than predation are changes in the ecosystem due to pine beetle and wildfires,” Williams said.
In the end, however, Williams believes it’s up to the area First Nations to decide how to manage the wildlife and resources of the region.
Alphonse said the issue of the wolf hunt has put some traditional allies on opposite sides of the debate.
“We don’t want to see wolves killed off.”