An insufficient predator management program on the provincial level means ungulate numbers are too low, said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad.
The overabundance of predators like wolves is pushing down populations of moose, as the MLA told a public meeting at the Tweedsmuir Park Rod and Gun Club in Burns Lake on June 15.
“The problem is we stopped managing predators,” he said. “If you think about a predator like a mature wolf, it will consume about four moose a year. With packs of wolves in the area – you’ve got a pack of 15-25 wolves, in some places up in the northwest they say there are packs of 50-56 wolves.”
“When you have a ratio of predators to prey that gets too high you’re going to have declines in your primary prey of moose, deer and elk. The suggestion is that it should be three wolves per 1,000 square kilometres. In many areas it’s five to seven,” he explained.
“The government needs to deal with it to bring down those numbers to a level that will allow the ungulates to recover. It’s a big issue because politically people don’t talk about it but we have to do it if we want to see a recovery in our ungulate populations.”
Moose numbers have been lower in the Burns Lake region for some time, as noted by hunters and the government. A study from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) covering 2012-2018 found the moose population had fallen by 13 per cent.
While Rustad acknowledged that some predator control is undertaken in the agricultural sector and some to protect caribou herds, the issue is politically sensitive for the current government.
“It is far more palatable to ask hunters to go hunt for ungulates than it is to ask people to go out and shoot a predator, including grizzlies…But as soon as you start calling for it – PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and all of these environmental groups will just start a campaign against it.”
“This kind of management is politically incorrect. The same groups that are opposing that also significantly campaigned for the current government.”
One of the keys to better wildlife management is taking politics out of the equation, Rustad said.
“Things like stopping the grizzly bear hunt – all politics. The last count I saw was 15,000 grizzlies and that was way under what the numbers are out there. We’re not saving the grizzly. I’ve heard from First Nations that they’ve never seen grizzlies in some areas before. Why? Because there’s too many of them. And they’re being pushed out of their habitat into other areas.”
Solutions to the predator population issue need to be discussed, and for his part, Rustad advocates offering rewards for hunting certain predators.
“Personally, I think the way to deal with them is to put a significant enough bounty for wolves and let the hunting community and the trapping community and the First Nations take care of the problem. It’s a conversation that needs to happen. Part of it is the data – how many wolves are out there and what are sustainable levels? What levels should we be at for grizzlies and black bears?”
The type of widescale predator management that Rustad envisions has not been government policy since the 1960s, and predator control to enhance ungulate numbers was last undertaken in the 1990s, as FLNRORD spokesperson Dawn Makarowski told Lakes District News.
“As social and environmental values have evolved, predators have been recognized as an integral part of ecological processes and the policy of broad-scale killing of predators was abandoned to allow for more natural predator-prey systems. Since this shift, wolf populations have recovered across the province, which has contributed to a reduction in the number of moose,” Makarowski said.
The province’s predator management program is focussed only on supporting the recovery of at-risk species, such as caribou. For that purpose, specific wolf herds are targeted for destruction if they are deemed a threat to such species.
“Current policy is to reduce wolf populations when and where there is an immediate risk to extirpating caribou herds. The only other provincially authorized predator reduction methods are through licensed trapping, licensed hunting, and the livestock protection program.”
Efforts at increassing ungulate numbers are made by improving habitat, access management and maintaining sustainable harvests through hunting regulations, Makarowski said.