Although fairy tales have given wolves a bad name, it may be unwarranted. Canada’s First Nations population has revered the wolf for thousands of years: Traditional Yukon First Nations’ social and political organization is based on two clans—the Crow and the Wolf. Contemporary culture is also steadily providing the animal with good press. From Wolf Haley, to werewolves, to Alan’s lone wolf speech, our generation has been “crying wolf” more than ever. So why, then, do these appreciative cries go unheard in favour of more villifying charges?
In today’s rendition of Aesop’s fable, the wolf remains the villain. At least in British Columbia it does. But the cry originates not so much out of the white lie of a child as it does the politics of selfish cattle-herders and big-game hunters. Ranchers seeking compensation for lost cattle in British Columbia’s Cariboo and Chilcotin region, which covers approximately one-third of the province, have been persistent in their indictments against wolves as the chief harassers of their livestock. Big game hunters also join the wolf-hating bandwagon, as removing nature’s canine predators artificially increases the caribou and elk populations to their benefit. The result: the BC government has declared a war on its wolves.
Under the guise of predator control, new wildlife regulations in BC permit open season hunting of wolves in 10 different “management areas” ranging from 100 Mile House to Williams Lake, Quesnel, and the Chilcotin. This wolf management plan rescinds BC’s previous bag limit of three wolves per year, and allows for the limitless use of leg-hold traps. The Humane Society of Canada denounces leg-hold traps because of their infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering; in an attempt to escape, animals will often starve or batter themselves to death, even chewing off their own limbs to break free.
Environmental and animal rights groups, including the Canadian Wolf Coalition, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and Valhalla Wilderness Association, are alarmed. Their main concern is that the legitimization of killing BC’s wolves will foreshadow a violent extinction of the species altogether: a true war of attrition.
But as is the case in most wars, motive appears to spring from politics and not fact. Science and research have been disregarded in place of anecdotal information. Statistics show that there is insufficient evidence that wolves are a serious threat to cattle. The Vancouver Sun revealed that in 2003, between 93 to 95 per cent of cattle killed was not by the wolf’s jaw, but in fact due to a plethora of other factors including “disease, toxic flora, calving problems, bad weather, getting hung up in the ubiquity of barbed wire fences, hit by vehicles, or killed and butchered by rustlers.”
Wayne McCrory, a biologist with the Valhalla Wilderness Society, recently told the Vancouver Sun that although wolves occasionally attack or kill livestock, they more commonly feed on the cattle that have already died from these other causes.
And so the wolf becomes the perfect scapegoat.
Meanwhile, the BC government has failed to recognize that wolves are a critical part of the predator-prey ecosystem, and that offsetting this balance of nature in an obvious prioritization of human interests will only have dangerous repercussions in the future. But for now, so continues the classic debate of who has the greater right to the land: man, or beast? Christy Clark should take some advice from Leopold and his Land Ethic, and maybe all won’t be lost.