The British Columbia government is publicly claiming to be totally transparent on how it manages wolves, but at the same time is refusing to release its most recent version of the wolf management plan.
"Everything in our approach to wolf management is transparent," Steve Thomson, the minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said March 7. He was responding during debate about his ministry's budget to a question from NDP critic Norm Macdonald about whether there is a secret wolf cull underway.
There is no secret cull, said Thomson. "In fact, we have recently gone through an extensive process, a public process, around a wolf management plan that's been out for public review and comment. All of those comments are being considered, and we look forward to bringing forward the management plan in the not too distant future."
That public comment period was open for three weeks in late 2012 -- it closed some 15 months ago -- after the ministry released its 60-page draft, "Management Plan for the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) in British Columbia."
Having heard rumblings following the May 2013 election that the government is planning to return to using poison to kill wolves and keep their numbers down, The Tyee began making requests for updates to the wolf management plan and related records using the province's freedom of information law.
The same day Thomson was in the legislature claiming total transparency, the response to a request for the most recent draft of the plan arrived: "Please be advised the records you requested are withheld in their entirety.... Your file is now closed."
The response cited Section 12 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which keeps cabinet and public body confidences secret.
In light of the minister's comments in the debate, The Tyee asked a ministry spokesperson for a copy of the updated wolf management plan. Instead the spokesperson provided a copy of the long available November 2012 draft, and a copy of the press release announcing the public consultation.
The spokesperson didn't provide an answer by publication time when asked why there's a delay in releasing the updated plan and when it will be released.
Since the 2012 consultation there have been some 1,000 pages of updated drafts produced, according to the response to an earlier Tyee freedom of information request.
The NDP's Macdonald said he would not be surprised if the ministry had begun poisoning wolves and that it fits with the government's secretive approach. "They've been certainly doing these culls for awhile and they just want to keep it quiet."
History of poisonings
Poisoning wolves would be a return to a practice begun in 1950 and ended in 1961 that's been blamed for the extirpation, or local extinction, of wolves in some parts of the province.
"Baits laced with cyanide, strychnine and Compound 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) were used at bait stations and later air dropped onto frozen lakes and rivers," according to the draft management plan released for discussion in 2012.
"Poisoning was considered to be very effective in reducing wolf populations, but also caused mortality of non-target wildlife species," it said. The draft plan doesn't mention returning to the practice, but mentions it for historical context.
Sadie Parr, the co-ordinator of the Just Beings wolf conservation group in Golden, said she too has heard the government is considering a poisoning program. "I haven't heard that officially," she said. "I really hope the province wouldn't go back to that."
Alberta, which uses bounties, poisons and baiting systems to kill wolves, has become a target of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, she said.
Poisoning wolves would be poor science, but would also be a contradiction of B.C.'s international brand and a detriment to the province's tourism industry, Parr said.
Various factors: MLA
There's no question there is pressure in B.C. to reduce the number of wolves, and the 2012 discussion paper acknowledges that the debate is polarized.
"Wolf populations have exploded in various parts of the province and for a number of reasons," Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris told The Tyee in September. Morris, a retired RCMP officer, also holds a fur trapping license.
"A lot of it has to do with the abundance of game in some areas," he said. "Another reason has to do with the fact there's been such extensive deforestation because of the pine beetle and some of the logging activity that has been associated to that.... Wolves can see long distances and ungulates, such as moose and deer and what not, really stand out in an area that has been logged because of the pine beetle."
Morris also said trapping has not been managed properly in the province, allowing the numbers of animals to increase. Some 70 per cent of traplines don't produce fur, he said. "You don't have the trappers out on the ground and that's another way of balancing the wolf population as well."
Trappers are bound by law to trap in the areas where they hold licences, but nobody is checking to make sure they actually are doing that, he said.
Numbers vs. ecosystem
In the budget debate last week Thomson said there are an estimated 8,500 wolves in the province, of which between 1,300 and 1,400 are "harvested" each year. "We're well below the sustainable levels of harvest with respect to the population, so it's not a conservation concern."
Parr from Just Beings said the government concentrates too much on wolf population numbers and not enough on overall ecosystem health.
While the ministry delays releasing its plan, it continues to make changes that affect wolves, she said. "There's new policies erupting all the time," she said. "Changes are happening. It's just not formalized on paper."
These changes, which she said largely respond to concerns of the ranching industry, include things like introducing new wolf hunting seasons in some areas, extending hunting seasons and increasing the bag limits or number of wolves each hunter is allowed to kill.
"The wolf is the scapegoat again in my opinion," Parr said. "What frustrates me is we're removing the apex predator from public land using taxpayer money."
Culling wolves responds to advocacy from the livestock industry, but much more could be done on preventing conflicts and encouraging responsible animal husbandry, she said.
The government should release its management plan promptly and allow it to be peer reviewed by scientists who can say whether it's in line with current science on wolves and the role of large predators in an ecosystem, she said.
A representative of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association was unavailable by publication time.
Read more: BC Politics
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