Researcher Chris Darimont says there’s no immediate threat to wolves on Vancouver Island and they are not to blame for declining deer populations. This photo, “Gray Wolf” by Dave Williss, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wolves not gnawing into Island’s prey population

Forestry practices, not predation, blamed for reduced numbers in prey animals

A recent wolf sighting in Campbell River raised questions about the animal’s conservation status on Vancouver Island, and whether wolves are responsible for reduced numbers of animals including deer and marmots.

Chris Darimont, a leading wolf expert and Raincoast Research Chair at the University of Victoria, says there’s no immediate threat to wolf populations on Vancouver Island, and forestry practices, not wolf populations, are to blame for a decline in animals such as deer.

“They’re a convenient scapegoat,” Darimont said in an interview. “But decades of research… reveal very little evidence that wolves cause declines in prey populations.”

Predator and prey systems are largely self-regulating, he said, meaning a decline in deer generally goes hand-in-hand with a decline in wolves.

And even if wolves hunt the Vancouver Island marmot as a “rare meal,” it isn’t wolves that are at the root of the problem.

A common cause for the decline of both animals is forestry practices, he said.

“The demise of marmots and the decline in deer share a common cause, and that is whole-scale conversion of ancient forests into a series of logging roads and tree plantations,” he said. “We should be reconsidering how forests are managed.”

As for the status of the grey wolf, the animal has been wiped out throughout the coastal United States, where they used to occur. Their southern limit tends to be Sooke on Vancouver Island and Howe Sound near Vancouver, Darimont said.

READ MORE: Wolf attacks dog in Vancouver Island First Nation community

Wolves have also lost large areas of range along the built-up areas of eastern Vancouver Island roughly from Campbell River to Victoria, he said.

In other areas, wolves are likely in lower abundance than they were, Darimont said, due to forestry practices that convert old-growth forests into “tree plantations” that support less deer.

Information posted on the website VI-Wilds states that Vancouver Island wolves are a subspecies that’s considered endangered and that less than 150 were estimated on the Island in 2008.

However, there’s no “immediate catastrophic threat” to wolves on the Island, according to Darimont.

“They are, in the short term, reasonably secure here on Vancouver Island,” he said.

Wolves were formerly subject to government-sponsored eradication campaigns and were thought to have disappeared entirely from the Island decades ago, he said, citing a 2010 research paper that he co-authored.

As for the designation of “subspecies,” Darimont said few scientists in his field would use that terminology anymore.

He said that wolves are good swimmers known to travel to and from the mainland. This has resulted in a mixing of their genes into an “evolutionarily significant unit.”

VIDEO: Takaya, the lone wolf that roams two B.C. islands, spotted on beach

Wolves often go into populated areas, but cellphone cameras have turned these sightings into news, he said. Recent examples include cellphone footage of a wolf swimming across the Discovery Passage in Campbell River on June 29.

“The difference is these days everyone’s connected by social media,” he said.

The Ministry of Forests said in a statement that Vancouver Island wolves aren’t recognized as a distinct subspecies, and that evidence points to ongoing dispersal of wolves to and from the mainland.

“(T)his has likely resulted in frequent transfer of genes between wolves in these areas of relative geographic proximity,” according to the statement.

The grey wolf is considered “not at risk” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and its provincial conservation status is “apparently secure to demonstrably widespread, abundant, and secure.” The ministry describes the wolf as “widespread and abundant on Vancouver Island.”

There are “more than 250 wolves on Vancouver Island at this time and the population is increasing,” according to estimates from the Ministry of Forests.

Darimont said in an email it’s likely true that more than 250 live on Vancouver Island, but there’s “no evidence I’m aware of that they are increasing (or decreasing for that matter).”


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BREAKING: Protesters block access to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal

Motorists unable to access 7 a.m. sailing

Decline of Canadian manufacturing hurts men, according to new study

A five per cent drop in manufacturing drops the weekly wages of men by at least 6.9 per cent

Esquimalt explores creating portage beach for choppy Gorge waters

The portage beach would add safety to the Victoria Waterways Loop

Number of U-Hauls entering Victoria plummeted in 2019

Data compiled from two million one-way U-Haul transactions

Six months to Francophone Games, 600 volunteers needed

Online applications open on Jan. 14

Itska back in owner’s arms after Island man returns dog taken from Tofino

Shannon Boothman reunited with lost dog Itska on Sunday

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

How to beat Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year

Multiple factors can play a role in seasonal depression, says Fraser Health psychiatrist

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Most Read