Wolf Cull: In the Mountains of British Columbia with Anti-Wolf Cull Activist
As an Australian relatively new to Canada, many aspects of the North American wilderness are as foreign to me as poutine at a hockey game. Moving from Sydney to British Columbia, I traded waves for mountains; eucalypts for conifers; wallabies for black bears – exchanges seemingly symptomatic of such an alteration of one's latitude. However the timing of my arrival in the Pacific Northwest afforded a glimpse of one similarity between my distant homes: flying out over the beaches of Australia's East Coast as dingoes were collared and culled, it's less than a day later that I'm jetting across the BC mountains where the government has mandated a wolf cull in the South Peace and South Selkirk Regions.
Our tedious relationship with canines is a well-documented phenomenon. The works of Jack London immortalised the refuge of wolves by our winter fires and the struggle for survival that we share with “man's best friend”. But since the government's implementation of a tax-payer funded cull that is scapegoating wolves for the decline in BC caribou populations, dissenting voices have expressed their concern over our treatment of wild canine species. Some of which have taken to vast and remote stretches of forest attempting to catch a last glimpse of these animals.
After several hours of hiking on a forest service road in the South Selkirk mountain range, I find myself photographing ungulates in a snow-covered clear-cut with members of Wildlife Defence League – a Vancouver-based conservation group comprised of people with such voices. The road meanders between cut blocks along the US/Canada border before peering out above an Idaho watershed affording a horizon of potato fields to a background of misty wilderness. It's here, in the South Selkirk that the activists from WDL have identified the habitat for the wolves at stake.
On a sunny day we flew a light plane out of a nearby hippy-town poking through clouds and spotting coyotes and in the foggy evenings we trekked the boundaries of the area tracking wolf prints larger than your hand. The size of the area as seen from both the ground and the air prompts a realization not only of the vastness of this continent's wilderness, but also its ephemeral nature. Most days we came across a group of loggers from the nearest small town. Their beards and flannel shirts reminiscent of Sydney-side hipsters from back home, but their blue-collar reservedness and diesel-covered hands in stark contrast. One week we hiked amongst towering Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs only to find them severed at the base upon our return. While the wolves of this area are being blamed for the decline in caribou numbers, we bared witness to an industry that is clearing their habitat in football-field sized proportions.
While finding tracks in knee-deep snow is relatively easy, the over-all task of tracking a small pack of wolves in such terrain is amazingly difficult (think a needle in a haystack but the needle is constantly moving) and the local folks remind us of this frequently. So the discovery of a fresh kill site toward the end of our trip spurs a last-ditch hope that we aren't far behind the elusive canids. While the short winter days pass quickly and no sightings ensue, the chance of personalizing our relationship with these wolves fades but a hope for their survival grows. However, it seems that the wolves existence within the Selkirk Range is as short-lived as a visiting Australian.
Wildlife Defence League is committed to monitoring, documenting and exposing the taxpayer-funded wolf cull through in-the-field tactics and public outreach. To see the South Selkirk ranges in British Columbia for yourself, take Highway 3 from the east or West or Highway 21 north from Idaho.