I will save you the suspense. The answer is not likely, according to many wildlife researchers who have studied the issue from all sides because of what’s at stake, which is the balance of entire ecosystems. The conclusion, though not generally accepted because it depends who you ask, is that you cannot cull (kill, in plain language) a species to protect another, they say.
The wolf cull that has been going on in British Columbia for five years will now be followed by an even more intensive one, according to a leaked memo from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. More than 80 percent of the wolves in certain parts of the province where the caribou herds are in steep decline are to be ousted, which will hopefully see the caribou surviving and thriving.
After all, at the end of the five year ‘wolf reduction’, there was a 15 percent population increase in some of the caribou herds. So it works, many said. Well, if we employ short-sightedness, it sure does look like it. If you have a bunch of exposed prey and some predators and you take out some of the latter, the first will do better. Short term.
From times immemorial though, predator and prey have been conditioning each other in ways that humans cannot replicate. Wolves and cougars (these are also to be culled, according to the latest memo) keep prey populations healthy by plucking out the weak and sick ones; nature’s long-term solution, if you will.
But throw humans in the mix and things go haywire. Through various activities, both industrial and recreational, humans have changed the caribou habitat over the course of many years. Climate change made things worse yet. The result was scary enough to employ some drastic measures such as wolf culling. To be fair, drastic measures can be employed when the situation requires it, when that is the last resort, as long as long-term solutions are also adopted (such as reversing habitat loss by restricting various industries access to caribou habitat.)
But let’s be clear, wolves have not caused the decline of the caribou, though they have taken the opportunity to feed on some of the ones that humans have exposed through their activity in the area, be it logging, mining, gas and oil exploration, all of which require road building, hence they create new paths in the caribou territory.
Wolves; wild animals and opportunistic predators – they do what they have done since the beginning of time in order to survive: they prey on what’s available and they eat when they are able to catch it.
One of the books I am reading nowadays is The Rise of Wolf 8 by Rick McIntyre. It’s a book about wolves. It’s storytelling and science, and many years of wolf research, fifteen to be precise. You’d think a book about wolves will become boring after a while, but it doesn’t. It’s fascinating. Wolf packs are not some haphazard groups of animals clumped together because they happen to be in the area. The alpha males and females have big roles to play in the pack, from protecting to providing food to raising the young and teaching them about the ways of life.
Killing some of the key members of a pack leaves the young ones without essential guidance, which is detrimental to the pack and the larger ecosystem they are part of. Also, using the knowledge of their social structure to employ some ‘Judas wolves’ is downright sick. I resent having the term applied to wolves given that it is not a voluntary action, but simply doing what they’ve been doing all their lives: going home.
So is the message then in British Columbia that a species has to be almost disappearing to be helped and even then, the help will be mostly a band-aid solution which will take other species out but no actual needed regulations will be set in place because ‘perpetual growth’, the industry and human activity in general cannot be curtailed? As I write this, extensive logging is taking place in the habitat of the endangered Wells Gray southern mountain caribou herd. How’s that for drastic measures to help the caribou?
Yes, it is controversial. Very much so. Where to from here? Out of sight cannot be out of mind when it comes to the natural world. Playing God does not work either, we ought to know that. Wait, we actually do. So here’s to hoping we apply that knowledge for better outcomes.