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BC's Wolf Killing Plans Withheld for Almost a Year

Stalling shows government's 'discomfort' with what it intends to do, says NDP critic.

By Andrew MacLeod 17 Mar 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Heavily censored documents suggest the British Columbia government has been withholding an updated wolf management plan since at least last May.

The documents also describe the possibility of creating two zones in the province with differing approaches to managing or reducing wolf numbers.

An "issue note" from May 2013 said that within 90 days of that time, the minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations was "to decide whether to release an updated Wolf Management Plan."

Ten months later, the government has yet to release that plan. The minister responsible, Steve Thomson, has said the ministry is "transparent" about wolf management and the plan will be released in the near future.

Responding to a request under freedom of information legislation, however, the government recently denied The Tyee access to the most recent draft of the plan.

Ministry spokesperson Greig Bethel said in an emailed statement that there had been no delay on releasing the final plan, noting it will be a substantive update from the last one prepared in 1979.

Nor is the province keeping plans for killing wolves secret, he said, pointing out that he had last week provided the November 2012 draft that had been released for public discussion.

"Having asked the minister to provide the plan, the minister's unwillingness to do so says something in itself," said the NDP's critic on the file, Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, in an interview. "It says there's either a level of discomfort with what they intend to do, or they're disorganized. Neither of those are particularly redeeming characteristics."

Two-zone management

The issue note was among 36 pages of records, some of them repetitive, released to The Tyee in response to an FOI request. Large sections of the records were censored, citing sections of the provincial FOI law that allows the government to keep secret cabinet confidences, policy advice or recommendations, and information harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body.

The records do provide a few clues to the province's plans. A Nov. 12, 2013 information note described the recommendation to have one set of practices in areas where wolves are killing livestock or threatening woodland caribou numbers, and another for wolves outside those areas.

"The two-zone management strategy is intended to provide a balanced approach with the need to address livestock depredation and/or recovery objectives for woodland caribou in specific areas while managing wolves elsewhere in the province primarily for conservation as well as sustainable hunting and trapping," it said.

A Dec. 10, 2013 information note describes possible ways to reduce wolf numbers in "agriculture and caribou recovery areas." The "discussion" section is censored from this note, but it includes definitions for "regulated harvest," "predator control" and "wildlife threatened by wolf predation."

Regulated harvest includes licensed hunting and trapping regulated by the ministry. Threatened wildlife includes populations at risk of becoming extirpated, or locally extinct, "either now or in the near future due to wolf predation." Predator control "refers to government-sanctioned activities to limit or reduce a wolf population through means other than regulated harvest," the document says.

Predator control

It is unclear from the documents what methods of killing wolves are proposed, where those methods would be used or when. Minister Thomson this week ruled out poisoning wolves, though sources told The Tyee that was one of the methods under consideration.

The minister was unavailable to answer questions about the newly-released documents.

"This government is committed to ensuring sustainable wildlife populations and healthy predator-prey relationships throughout B.C.," ministry spokesperson Bethel said in an email. "The wolf management plan will addressing [sic] issues of two main areas of concern, reducing wolf predation on livestock and wildlife threatened by wolf predation, specifically endangered caribou."

Since the plan is still being finalized, it's premature to talk about what might be in it, he said. "Wolves are not a species of conservation concern," he added. "They are difficult to hunt and trap and their population growth and dispersal rates are higher than those of other carnivores."

Several documents note wolf numbers are considered stable in the province and the species is not considered at risk. During 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.

There's no doubt the government believes the B.C. public holds polarized opinions on what, if anything, to do about wolves.

A March 18, 2013 "transition note" outlined the government's challenge in making decisions about wolf management. "While there are strong differing beliefs and values on the management of wolf populations, it is important that decisions are informed by sound science," it said.

"Wildlife management plans summarize the best available science-based information on biology and threats to inform the development of a management framework," it said. "They set goals and objectives, recommend approaches appropriate for species or ecosystem conservation and provide strategic advice."

Science cited, not supported: NDP

The wolf plan makes recommendations, but doesn't advocate any specific action, the note said.

"Any future wildlife management decisions will be made with conservation of all species, including wolves, as the foremost priority," it said.

The government talks about basing wolf management and other wildlife decisions on science, but it hasn't supported the work to make that possible, said the NDP's Macdonald.

"They have not invested in wildlife inventory," he said. "They have cut staff, cut money and predictably they don't have information. They simply do not have the science to back up their claims they're making decisions based on good science."

The fact decisions about wolf and wildlife management are contentious makes it all the more important that the government invests in the necessary science and make its plans transparent, Macdonald said.

"Clearly they're doing something, and yet clearly they're not willing to show what they're doing," he said. "[These decisions] are polarizing. It does mean the things you're possibly going to do are going to be held up to scrutiny. And I think pretty clearly what they're doing does not hold up to scrutiny."  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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