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Crying wolf stories do not add up

Conservation officer talks about experience with packs in area

More eyes in the bush and less accessible food sources may be the reason for an increase in the number of wolf sightings, said Powell River conservation officer Gerry Lister.

“I don’t know if there are more wolves or less food so they are being seen more frequently,” said Lister, who works for BC Conservation Officer Service.

Lister has been stationed in Powell River for the past six years and has worked throughout the province during his career.

“When I first got here, there were very few wolf complaints,” he said. “They seemed to go up, a spike of them, about two years ago.”

Now, Lister said the conservation service is not receiving public reports as much as they are just hearing of wolf sightings through the rumour mill, most of which do not ring true.

“Go online, read about wolves,” he said. “They are not going to be walking down a street with cars going by in the middle of the afternoon—unless the wolf is rabid. It’s not what they do. They’re illusive.”

Lister thinks people may have spotted coyotes, which have not been reported in the area for many years.

“Maybe it was just someone’s dog without a collar that was wolfy-looking,” he said. “How many wolves have most people seen in the wild? We’ve had way more issues with cougars than we have had with wolves.”

However, there have been reports of wolf attacks on dogs, with most reports coming from people who live on the periphery between the wild and people’s homes.

Lister said that only alpha males and females are allowed to breed in the pack which forces younger males to break off from packs in search of a mate. Male dogs the wolf may come across are treated as either a threat or as food, he added. “When he comes across a female dog in heat, he doesn’t care what sub-species of dog that is, it’s just a canine in heat,” he said.

Over the years, Lister said there have been reports of wolf sighting and attacks on dogs in the Zilinsky Road area and wolves have been commonly seen at Myrtle Point Golf Course since it first opened 15 years ago.

Lister said that a pack lives near the golf course and hunts mice that live under the greens. Golfers commonly see wolf prints in the sand traps near the sixth and seventh holes.

“There’s always been wolves and I think there are more people out in the bush now,” he said. “Seeing a wolf is no different than seeing a cougar or a bear in the bush. They are a wild animal and part of the natural ecosystem and they belong there.”

Despite the sightings, wolves pose very little risk to human safety and try to stay away from people, he added. As for attacks on humans, “it has been very few,” he said. The ones that have been recorded were usually because the wolf had become habituated with the animal being deliberately fed by humans, or livestock security measures had not being taken.

Through conversations he has had with people in the community, Lister thinks there are probably one or two small packs of five or six animals and perhaps some younger males wandering around on their own.

Wolves hunt at night looking for food, so dog owners who live in areas where wolves are more commonly seen need to be more aware of not letting their dogs out at night.

“If the deer population gets too low, wolves may come in and start killing livestock,” he said. “But where we’ve had several wolf sightings over the years in that Zilinsky Road area we don’t have any reports of wolves coming in and killing anyone’s livestock. The only reports of wolves killing anything are a few dogs and that’s probably from more of a protective point of view.”

Lister said that the conservation service will take action by setting leg and neck traps when wolves start to pose a risk to an area. “One attack on a dog by a wolf doesn’t necessarily warrant a response, but several attacks in a neighbourhood may indicate that the wolves have become habituated and they are not going to be leaving the area,” he said.

Conservation officers expect farmers to have certain safeguards put in place to protect livestock from wolves. Safeguards include ensuring livestock is brought inside at night, fence-lines are not built next to the edge of forests and, if necessary, protection dogs are used.

To report a conflict with wildlife—wolves bears, cougars or otherwise—readers can call 1.877.952.RAPP (7277).

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