The British Columbia government has temporarily stopped killing wolves, and conservationists are pushing to make the pause permanent.
"I don't want people thinking it's over," said Sadie Parr, the director of the non-profit company Wolf Awareness Inc. in Golden, noting the B.C. government plans to continue to kill wolves over the next five years.
In January, the government announced that ministry staff in helicopters would shoot up to 184 wolves before the snow melted in an attempt to protect mountain caribou in two regions of the province. Wolves are easier to track when their footprints are visible in the snow.
But on April 16, the province announced it was concluding the program for the year, having killed only 73 wolves in the South Peace Region and 11 in the South Selkirk Mountains.
The controversial plan divided environmental groups. Some condemned the cull, saying it punishes wolves when the real problem is that industries like oil and gas, recreation and forestry have altered the landscape in ways that disadvantage caribou.
Others accepted the government's argument that it is necessary to remove wolves to give caribou populations a chance to recover while steps are taken to protect habitat.
Andrew Weaver, the only BC Green Party MLA, has said that on balance he supports the cull.
Cull will continue, says minister
Steve Thomson, B.C.'s minister of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, said that ministry staff will kill more wolves next winter. "The program was always considered to be a multi-year program," he said. "It won't be effective if it's just one year, so we need to monitor the wolf populations, monitor the caribou population, and the intent is the program will continue."
The cull was more successful in the South Selkirks than in the Peace River where there were weather challenges, but overall it was a good start, he said.
"I know there are many people who are opposed to that action being taken," Thomson said, noting the government had the support of some First Nations and environmental groups. "It was a very, very difficult decision, but it was a decision that I felt needed to be made in order to give those caribou herds a chance of recovery."
The South Selkirk caribou population was down to just 14 animals in March 2015, four fewer than a year earlier, according to a government news release. In four herds in the South Peace, totalling as few as 163 caribou, at least 37 per cent of caribou deaths were caused by wolves, the government has said.
Parr said that her group and others are working to keep the wolf killing program from re-starting. Wolf Awareness has made public presentations in Invermere, Golden, Revelstoke and Whistler, she said, and the organization is planning more presentations in future.
"The wolf is treated like vermin, whether it is for caribou or other reasons," Parr said.
Besides killing wolves from helicopters, the province allows hunters and trappers to kill some 1,000 wolves a year, she added. "This is a new thing, but it really is only, in my opinion, a small piece of the slaughter that's happening."
When the government announced the wolf cull, it said the plan had been peer reviewed. It has yet to release the peer review documents.