After a year of waiting, court date to challenge B.C.’s aerial wolf cull set for July

Province approved aerial cull in January in an effort to save caribou herd.

wolf cull

Pacific Wild is hoping to stop the province's wolf cull strategy in court. Photos courtesy: Pacific Wild

A challenge to the B.C. government’s method of killing wolves in the wild will take place in a Vancouver courtroom over two days starting July 7.

In a petition filed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in July 2020, Pacific Wild is asking that the province’s amendment to the Wildlife Act that allows wolves to be hunted and killed from the air in an effort to slow the decline of caribou herds, be struck down.

The group says the method not only breaks provincial laws — but federal ones as well.

“We are asking the court to declare that the current regulations, as they apply to allowing hunting wolves by air, are invalid and that they also conflict with federal aviation laws,” says Laurie McConnell, spokesperson for Pacific Wild.

According to the petition, “a helicopter  is used to spot and track individual, or packs of, wolves. When a desired wolf is spotted, a person then uses a net gun to throw a net over the wolf from a helicopter to restrain the animal. Once the wolf is restrained, a person exits the helicopter to attach a radio collar on the wolf. This collared wolf (“Collared Wolf”) is then released to return to his or her pack. This process is sometimes referred to as “net gunning.”

“The Collared Wolf can then be tracked by air, or GPS, in order to reveal the location of other pack members. Once the pack’s location is revealed, snipers from a helicopter shoot and kill, or lethally injure, the located wolf pack members using a firearm. The wolves may also be shot or trapped from the ground.”

According to the group, an amendment is going to be filed to the court but they weren’t at liberty to say what changes are being asked for.

This method of killing any animal would be illegal in B.C. had the province not amended its Wildlife Act.

According to the act prior to the amendment, it was illegal for anyone who “hunts using information on the location of wildlife that is obtained by means of an aircraft,” or “shares, or assists in sharing, information on the location of wildlife that is obtained by means of an aircraft,” and “shared for the purpose of hunting wildlife.”

But in January, the government amended the act and now allows regional managers to issues permits for killing wildlife from the air if, among other reasons, “to address a matter of animal health among wildlife populations,” or “to control wildlife populations.”

According to Pacific Wild, a “non-profit, wilderness and wildlife protection organization” with one of its goals being “to protect wolves in this province,” B.C. has killed over 1,250 wolves in a cull intended to help save the caribou population, which for some herds numbers are on the decline while others are near extinct.

The group hopes its two days in court will end the hunt given that it says the wolf cull contravenes both the provincial Wildlife Act, and federal aviation laws.

“There is less and less habitat, especially eco-systems size habitat, there is more habitat islands which unfortunately are not going to save caribou. We are also in a mass extinction and have climate change responsibilities,” says McConnell.

McConnell says over hunting and old growth logging are also major factors in the loss of the caribou.

According to a B.C. government fact sheet released in 2017, loss of habitat and wolf predation are the leading causes of caribou mortality.

Some caribou herds in the province are down to a dozen or so animals. In 2015, the province decided to bring in a wolf cull to protect the South Selkirk (12 animals in 2017) and South Peace herds. Mountain Caribou are at risk of extinction and 98 per cent of the global population of caribou lives in the province in 15 herds.

The estimated median population of wolves in B.C. is 8,500, according to the government’s numbers.

One thing scientists agree on is that wolves and caribou got along just fine before human intervention turned the balance of nature on its head.

An online search shows that scientists are split on the cull. Some believe the cull is a stop-gap measure that will help the caribou recovery while the province gets around to protecting the land, while others say it’s just making the situation worse.

One biologist told the Narwhal in an article published in April 2020, that it could take 50 years of killing “70 to 90 per cent” of the wolves in each herd areas to be effective.

In the same article, author Kevin Van Tighem, who has studied wolves his entire life, said the cull could make things worse. He said once you kill the alpha male and female, there’s no leadership.

“You’re constantly breaking down their social structure and sending untrained adolescents out onto the landscape to figure out how to kill things and to reproduce,” Van Tighem told the Narwhal. “So you’re increasing predation because these are inefficient hunters.”

McConnell wants to stop the cull altogether, at least from the air. She says COVID-19 has created problems in the courts.

“We are registered for the B.C. Vancouver court room which has a very busy docket and its extremely difficult to get a court date. Especially when you have a judge, our legal representative and two from the government to find two consecutive days that work for everyone,” says McConnell.

Pacific Wild said they were told no wolves would be killed while this was before the courts since January 2021 — but according to the group, 237 wolves have been killed between January and March of 2021.

“I think British Columbians are wondering a) how you change regulations while a court case is pending I think most people would expect that changes be made before allowing a hunt and b) when is the government of British Columbia going to commit to habitat protection in a meaningful way in British Columbia.”

APTN News reached out to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development but did not get a reply.

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