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Rainforest Wolf Project - Raincoast Conservation Foundation

In the summer of 2000 Raincoast Conservation Foundation, wildlife biologist Chris Darimont, and world-renowned large carnivore expert Dr. Paul Paquet, began a proactive and pioneering study of wolves in the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) using a non-invasive methodology. This project supports the science-based rationale for protecting ecologically important watersheds and the interacting marine environment in the Great Bear Rainforest, and provides the basis for hard-hitting conservation campaigns. Over 2500 scat and hair samples have been collected and analyzed to date, and the emerging results have significant regional and global conservation importance.

The future of the Great Bear Rainforest remains uncertain and lacks the protection of extensive contiguous areas needed for large, far-ranging carnivores such as wolves and grizzlies. Currently, no federal or provincial legislation in Canada that specifically safeguards wolf habitat.

 
PROJECT DESCRIPTION

In 2003 Raincoast will shift focus from field work to the application and implementation of results - influencing land use planning, applied conservation biology initiatives, and public awareness and education. Raincoast has established a credible rationale for conservation through on-the-ground research, which supports their public advocacy and communications work. After three years of scat collection, wolf tracking, and DNA analysis, Raincoast has begun to undertake a comprehensive plan to raise awareness about this unique coastal wolf and advocate for wolf protection.

The scientific information gleaned during the three field seasons studying the coastal wolf will be implemented in the following outline in order to work towards protecting the species, ecologically important watersheds, and the interacting marine environment.

  1. Influencing Land Use Planning - There are three levels of land use planning occurring on the north and central coasts of British Columbia - First Nations, government-sponsored, and the ENGO/industry Coast Information Team project. One of Raincoast’s essential roles over the coming year will be to critically assess the biological and social validity of plans being made for BC’s coast, as well as to feed new and sound information into the processes. Key deadlines on the fate of BC’s central and north coast are looming.
     
    Raincoast’s focus in 2003/04 will be to advocate for protection of the wolf-deer systems identified through their research, which translates into a 20% increase in the coast’s land base beyond what is currently considered ecologically significant. This is, in part, based on a 2002 deer winter range study conducted by Raincoast. The study mapped the level of conflict between critical winter habitat for deer and areas targeted for logging. As predicted, deer winter range and areas targeted for logging share the same characteristics: older, high volume forests on moderate slopes. Although operable timber occurs on only 11% of study area (which ranges from Smith Inlet to the north end of Princess Royal Island), it contains nearly 50% of the critical deer winter range. These findings ultimately increase the ecologically significant land base in the Great Bear Rainforest by 20% above what was originally determined in the Conservation Areas Design for BC’s central coast, including a significant amount of genetic diversity in small salmon-producing systems.
     
  2. Applied Conservation Biology / Wolf Den Site Protection - Often, planning processes fall short of addressing urgent conservation problems. In 2002 Raincoast’s wolf research team demonstrated the application of on-the-ground research by negotiating a 200-m buffer with Western Forest Products for a wolf den site on the central coast’s Yeo Island. Six den sites were documented in 2002, all of them located in low elevation salmon-bearing valleys, far from human disturbance. Four of these sites were being reused from 2001, reinforcing the need to permanently protect these important pup-rearing areas.
     
    Wolf Management Reform / Predator Control Report
    - In conjunction with large carnivore expert Dr. Paul Paquet, Raincoast will be producing a report examining the impacts and efficacy of lethal predator control as applied to large carnivores. The report will focus on wolves in particular as wolf “management” remains a dilemma for wildlife managers. It is known that wolves, and other large predators, can have a regulatory affect on ungulates. Since 1970 biologists have studied the relationships between large predators and ungulate prey. The efforts in Alaska have centered on relationships of gray wolves and bears, with their principal ungulate prey, moose and caribou. Lethal control of predators has been controversial among the general public, and many in the scientific community have seriously questioned its efficacy. Raincoast’s aim is to produce a peer reviewed scientific document that will thoroughly analyze lethal predator control and examine the non-lethal methods that are being developed as alternatives.
     
    Cull and Sterilization Programs - In the fall of 2002, Raincoast worked to quash a proposal by British Columbia's Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection to cull Vancouver Island wolves and cougars; however, a limited cull around marmot colony areas was approved for the summer of 2003. Another regressive proposal pending is focused on the 6.3-million-hectare Muskwa-Kechika park in the northern Rockies wilderness. The plan would see wolves being shot and trapped year-round, increasing the bag limit from three wolves to 10. These measures, as well as a proposal to burn 120 square kms a year in the area, are in addition to the early 2003 sterilization of 13 wolves in five packs in the Muskwa-Kechika. The ministry lacks good science on the subject as it does not conduct an inventory on these species, and is being lobbied heavily by the hunting industry. Raincoast’s predator control paper (above) will help to inform these policies and outline non-lethal options for predator control in BC.
     
    Kill-free Refuge Areas - The Rainforest Wolf Project seeks to establish the full protection of wolves from killing by humans in the 30,000 km2 Heiltsuk First Nation Territory on BC’s central coast, by creating the area as a “kill-free” zone. This unique project would be a precedent-setting case involving local communities that could lead the way for similar initiatives for other species and in other areas. Raincoast will address a long-held and well-lobbied hunting faction in BC, with roots in the guide/outfitting industry, resident hunters, and provincial wildlife managers. Accordingly, and drawing from their research, on-the-ground experience, and moral frameworks, Raincoast has developed a multi-faceted rationale for the protection of wolves that draws from several domains. Raincoast’s intention is to create refuges in time for the 2004 summer pup-rearing season.
     
  3. Public Education and Awareness - The Rainforest Wolf Project received a great deal of interest from the international newspaper, magazine, radio and television media in 2002. This has contributed greatly to Raincoast’s public education efforts. Raincoast’s plan to bring international journalists up to the BC coast for a media boat tour in order to raise awareness of the habitat issues facing the wildlife and people in the Great Bear Rainforest. Raincoast expects to have a full data set of DNA scat analysis by the fall 2003, which will be a compelling news story in itself. Raincoast will pursue feature news and magazine articles, radio and television coverage through international outlets.

 
REFERENCES

Raincoast Conservation Society. 2003. 1 Oct. 2003 <http://www.raincoast.org/>.

Larstone, M. “Info about Raincoast” attachment. E-Mail to Richard Edwards. 20 Oct. 2003.