Wolf snare program halted in Columbia Valley after photographer speaks out

The Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations program will begin again if conflicts between cattle and wolves arise

The efforts of a local nature photographer, whose keen eye behind the lens and beyond helped him discover 18 wolf snare traps located six kilometres from his Columbia Lake home, have played a role in halting a provincial government snare trapping program.

As of Thursday, February 28, the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations program has been curtailed, but will begin again if conflicts between cattle and wolves arise.

“I am not just happy about the fact that we have saved a few wolves, which is great, but at the same time we have saved a lot of other wildlife and even dogs in the area,” said Brad Hill. “The choice of traps are certainly questionable, potentially on legal grounds, but there is also no doubt that these traps cause pain and suffering even if they work perfectly, which they often don’t.”

The snare program was started on February 8 after 14 verified incidents of cattle killed by wolves while grazing on crown land were reported between the spring and fall of 2012 by a local rancher, Hill said.  The traps, which were spread out around the Dutch Creek, Lake Windermere and Columbia Lake area, were baited with road-killed elk and mule deer.

Hill learned of traps on the northern end of Columbia Lake after he bumped into a neighbour who had reported observing baited snares in the area. Fearing for the safety of his dog, Hill discovered the location of the traps for himself and started an online petition to halt the program, which has now received more than 2,000 signatures. Although the traps represent a moral concern for Hill, he feels that the campaign may also be on shaky legal grounds.

“This is a much bigger story than a few local snares,” he said. “Theses snares are in direct violation of an international agreement on humane trapping standards that Canada is signatory to.”

Hill is referring to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards signed by the European Union and Canada in December 1997.

“If you look at the list of approved traps for a wolf, the only thing certified is a leg hold trap that doesn’t close all the way and has rubber jaws to not hurt the animal,” Hill added.

The use of snare traps complies with the requirements of the Wildlife Act and utilizes the best methods and equipment to avoid incidental catches, the Ministry of Environment wrote in an email to The Echo.

The snares themselves are designed with an added tension spring to dispatch the predator as quickly and humanely as possible. They are also designed to break if a larger animal, such as an ungulate or bear is caught, releasing the animal unharmed, the Ministry of Environment added via email.

Hill, who is a biologist with a Master of Science in Behavioural Ecology,  is unconvinced that the snares used are humane.

“We have testimony from not only the American Humane Society, but from veterinarians about the speed of death and amount of pain that these inflict,” he said.

The reasons for the decision to stop the trapping of wolves in the Columbia Valley were not released by the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations before press deadline, but Hill has a theory.

“It appears to be a very recent decision to remove the snares,” he said. “I would not be surprised that there was a bit of a move to diffuse the story and diffuse the major issue we are facing in terms of how we are managing wolves, in this case with the snares.”

The Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations would be better off to employ a risk-mapping program on Crown Land where they could look at the probability of a wolf preying on cattle in an area and keep the predator out, as opposed to using lethal means, Hill explained.

“Use of risk maps can actually reduce the depredation rate pretty dramatically, he said. “That is one of the only mitigation measures on public land.”

The Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations released their Wolf Management Plan for public comment on November 14, 2012. For more information about the plan, please visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/public-consultation/grey-wolf/ .