Wolf cull could have repercussions in the Okanagan

Over the past decade, hunters have been reporting more sightings of wolves in the area.

- Contributed Wolves spotted near Peachland.

The wolf cull in northern B.C. may be creating changes in the Okanagan, says a UBCO researcher.

Over the past decade, local hunters have been reporting more sightings of wolves in nearby hunting ranges.

“We may be seeing something that is not really about the Okanagan, but it might be (from) wolves coming in from another place that they’re leaving,” said Adam Ford, an associate professor of biology and Canada research chair in wildlife restoration ecology at UBCO.

In an attempt to recover caribou populations, wolves have been killed and that may be causing packs to split up and move on.

“Only some animals in the pack are breeding, the alpha male and alpha female. If one of them dies you might get some animals moving around more even though you’re trying to reduce movement,” Ford said.

READ MORE: Environmental groups criticize new mountain caribou recovery proposals

Jesse Zeman, with the BC Wildlife Federation, said around 10,000 resident hunters have been seeing wolves in the wilderness around the Okanagan Valley, more recently on the Westside and near Peachland.

“All indications are is that we’re seeing more wolves and in parts more grizzly bears as well,” he said.

He said part of it could because of the recolonization of wolves across western North America, after they were eradicated in the USA.

“They’re recolonizing these areas that historically they could have occupied,” he said.

Packs have a home range, but the size of the range varies depending on habitat and prey.

We’ve had wolves travel from B.C. down into Montana and Idaho in a matter of weeks, so the young dispersers cover a lot of ground,” Zeman said.

He said with more cut blocks and more roads built due to the pine beetle devastation, wolf sightings could have increased because wolves utilize roads for faster travel.

Ford said there are a few reasons why hunters are seeing more wolves in the Okanagan, which fall in line with Zeman’s theory.

RELATED: Letter: Wolves decimate herds; don’t drive economy

“One is they’re not in the same spots and maybe it’s easier to see them for some reason because they’re using roads or open habitat. Another is that they’re increasing, wolves like every wildlife species have cycles,” Ford said.

Ford is currently part of an ongoing study in the Kootenays, driven by concern of the number of wolves in the area.

Using special listening devices, the team monitors wolf calls to determine where the wolves are and how many are in the area.

But the animals remain elusive creatures, as Ford said there’s a lot we don’t know about them.

“There’s definitely a stigma around them,” he said, adding people tend to sit on either side of whether to control the population or not. “It probably makes it harder to do good wolf science.”

Zeman said it’s hard to predict whether people will start seeing them in the urban areas.

“It revolves around more of people’s cats and dogs and cattle getting attacked,” he said. “If you have high quality habitat and you’re taking care of the habitat, then predation isn’t a huge factor.”

Typically there isn’t a concern for human safety with wolves, Zeman said, and he recommends to keep a yard and property clean so they don’t get habituated.

“If they get into the garbage chances are they are going to be dead,” he said.


edit@kelownacapnews.com

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