Wolf Sterilization Scheme Backfires


Absent of any legitimate scientific rationale and at the behest of the trophy hunting lobby, the British Columbia government is moving to carry out predator control programs to systematically sterilize or kill wolves in different regions of the province. For example, wolf sterilization has been underway in a vast region of the Northern Rockies known as the Muskwa-Kechika. In the Muskwa-Kechika the Ministry of Environment is carrying out a program to sterilize wolves that is based on questionable science and is primarily designed to maximize sport hunter benefit by increasing the number of ungulates.

The Ministry’s rationale for controlling wolves in the Muskwa-Kechika is to enable arbitrarily determined population targets for ungulates (that is, deer, elk and moose) to be achieved, not because any one of these populations is in imminent danger of extirpation. These ungulates are valued for trophy hunting and the reason is clearly to provide more and better hunting opportunities for moose and elk.

Recent media reports in BC have exposed the failure of the Ministry’s ill-conceived management prescription for wolves in the Muskwa-Kechika. Not surprisingly, however, the failure was entirely predictable. In fact, we had forecasted precisely this outcome in a letter to then Environment Minister Joyce Murray and her staff in early 2003.

Freedom of Information access to Ministry documents have described uncertainty in identification of breeding wolves to be sterilized, and the potential of social disruption following sterilization. We informed the Ministry of this three years ago, warning that problems would include, among others, ‘the difficulty of identifying the dominant breeding pair of wolves in a pack, and, even if they are identified, the changing nature of pack hierarchies means that a breeding pair one year may not be the breeding pair the next’. We suspect pack disruption and the subsequent increases in wolves was the result of an interaction between sterilization and continued “harvests” of wolves. Again, we warned, ‘The plan compounds the problems associated with sterilizationbecause it proposes allowing, and even increasing, hunting and trapping of wolves at the same time. Sterilization, to be effective at all, requires a stable pack structure. Hunting and trapping risks the loss of dominant pack members, resulting in pack fragmentation, allowing more, not fewer, wolves to reproduce.’ Wolf packs in the Muskwa-Kechika are apparently “booming” despite the Ministry’s suspect management actions.

Controlling wolves by lethal or non-lethal sterilization is technically unsound as a long-term management tool. Lethal control has a dubious record of success as a means of depressing numbers of wolves over time, because removing individual wolves may fragment packs and allow more wolves to breed. When entire packs are eliminated, wolves from outside the control area often immigrate to fill the void.

In the case of the Muskwa-Kechika, the Ministry is counting on the sterilization of wolves to provoke less public opposition because in theory no wolves are killed. The reality of sterilization, however, appears to be something else. Its effectiveness has not been established. As a result, when the management objective of reducing wolf numbers is not achieved through sterilization managers have resorted to lethal methods of control.

This option is recognized in the Muskwa-Kechika Wildlife Management Plan, which ominously states that if control objectives are not achieved through surgical sterilization or fertility-lowering drugs, “additional methods” will be considered. One of the greatest and most obvious values of science is its predictive utility. That the Ministry chose to ignore our recommendations, along with voluminous scientific literature that would issue similar counsel, suggests they simply did not want science to interfere with their dubious sterilization experiment.

The Ministry’s plan to sterilize wolves was ill-informed and anachronistic management masquerading as science, designed to appease their preferred constituents in the trophy hunting lobby, which complained that wolves were reducing opportunities to shoot ungulates for recreation and profit. The major goal of this plan is to manipulate an ecosystem to suit human purposes, not to save any endangered or threatened populations. It is management biased toward maximizing specific, preferred species to the detriment of others, and ignores natural and dynamic ecosystem processes.

Aside from the predictable inefficacy and ecological irresponsibility of the Ministry’s program, we propose that the forceful removal of the reproductive organs of wild wolves is morally indefensible, and we suspect the majority of British Columbians would agree.

CHRIS DARIMONT is a Conservation Biologist and PhD candidate at the University of Victoria.

Chris Genovali is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society. They can be reached at: chris@raincoast.org




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