Friday, December 21, 2007

Conservation Officers respond to public outcry over wolves

With a spike in the human to wolf contact of late around Prince Rupert things have been getting a little busy around the Terrace based offices for conservation officers.

With the latest report of a wolf attack at the golf course still fresh in everyone’s mind, the Daily News contacted their office for an update on their thoughts on the current situation in Prince Rupert.

Their answers and observations were the front page story in Thursday’s paper.

But conservation officers do not plan on culling the Kaien Island population
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Pages one and three

As horrible as it is that wolves are preying on the pet population of Prince Rupert, local conservation officials say the behavior is not unusual, given the nature of the animals and the location of the community.

Conservation officers in Terrace have received numerous reports of wolf activity in and around Prince Rupert in the past month, including at least three separate incidents in which dogs have been attacked and/or killed, and at least one report of a cat being eaten. The officers say they realize the severity of what has been happening, but say any course of action they take will be based on a case-by-case basis.

“The control options that we have in dealing with wolves are very limited,” said Chris Price, a conservation officer based in Terrace.

“The traditional control methods for wolves around trapping have been the use of leg-hold traps or killing snares, and these aren’t really an option in an urban environment. We have to make sure, if we take any action, that we’re not putting public safety at risk.

Price says shooting is the measure used most often when officials have identified a wolf or several wolves that are behaving in a manner they feel present a risk to the public. Behavior that would warrant such an extreme course of action is considered to be signs of heavy conditioning to being around people and vehicles, where it is obvious the animals have lost their natural fear of people.

“Wolves in the wild are usually quite timid creatures, and they don’t consider people to be anything but a threat to them,” said Price.

“However, when they get into these urban environments, they quickly become adapted to living around people and things associated with people, and they learn to capitalize on it go get food.”

Usually, wolves enter urban areas in search of their natural prey, in this case deer that have learned they are safer in a residential setting or are being fed by people.

As wolves are drawn into the urban environment, they too realize that humans do not pose a threat to them and begin to adapt to the occasional encounters.

“Certainly hand-feeding is one of the main things that will result in a wolf becoming habituated and a risk to public safety, and therefore handfeeding is illegal under the Wildlife Act and a very dangerous practice,” said Price.

“We don’t encourage people to attract deer to their yards, because if there’s a high population of deer frequenting an area, that’s very attractive to a wolf.”

Conservation officers do not keep regular office hours, so they rely on phone messages to record reports and alert them of any new wildlife conflicts that may arise.

Price says officials are monitoring the situation very closely, and officers have been dispatched to Prince Rupert several times since Nov. 30 to address the areas they are receiving the most complaints from.

“We’re discussing other options we could take if necessary, where we feel the situation is posing a risk to the public and we need to cull the pack and eliminate some of the problem animals.”

“We’re looking at differing options we could use to address that, but, like I say, our options are limited in an urban environment and we don’t want public safety at risk.”

The most recent incident on Tuesday morning where a golden retriever was attacked by a pack of four wolves did alarm conservation officials, but they are treating it much the same as the other dog attacks from last month.
“Any action we take will be on a case-by-case basis, there’s no threshold where we’ll say ‘all right’, we’re going in and shooting any wolf we see,” said Price.

“It’s not an unnatural behavior for wolves to prey on dogs. In the most recent case, the wolves did back off when the people approached, didn’t make any aggressive moves toward the people, allowed them to retrieve their dog and leave the area.”

The conservation office in Terrace is urging residents to report any and all sightings of, or contact with wolves, as it is the only means they have for identifying the problem areas and possibly the animals that are posing the most threat to public safety. The number people can call is 1-877-952-7277, which will register reports in their Problem Wildlife Database which officers can check and use to keep track of conflicts.

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