It's a dirty business killing wolves and the British Columbia government would rather the public didn't think about it much.
Reports on how many wolves are being shot, trapped, sterilized, and otherwise hounded out of existence under predator-control programs in beautiful B.C. aren't readily available. When they do occasionally surface, it is a reminder of just how grim the battle is that is being waged out there against wolves.
Anne Sherrod, a researcher with Valhalla Wilderness Watch, was recently leaked a government PowerPoint presentation on a wolf-control program being conducted by the Ministry of Environment.
The document shows that between 2001 and 2004, as part of an effort to save endangered mountain caribou, the government killed 30 wolves and sterilized 16 others in the Quesnel Highlands area in central B.C.
Ms. Sherrod said the government report refers to "live trapping" wolves, but what that term really means is the wolves are caught in leghold traps. They aren't alive for long, and as a Creston man recently found out when his dog stepped in two wolf traps - the death is agonizing.
The government did take some wolves alive using net guns during its Quesnel Highlands wolf project, and 27 of those animals were fitted with radio collars.
The signals transmitted from those collars allow government officials to track the wolves from aircraft, to shoot members of the pack if they want, or to log their movements and see how often they overlap with caribou herds.
Not surprisingly, the radio study has shown that wolves and caribou often cross each other's tracks.
It isn't known, however, how often wolves actually kill caribou. It may be rare.
But that hasn't stopped the B.C. government from making wolves open targets in areas where endangered herds of mountain caribou are found.
"In the Quesnel Highlands, they have been killing the sub-alpha wolves and sterilizing the alpha males and females," Ms. Sherrod said. "This doesn't make any environmental sense. ... Animals like caribou have to have habitat to survive and if they don't have that habitat because of logging and other development, then shooting the predators won't save them."
Ms. Sherrod said lots of researchers have looked at the relationship between wolves and mountain caribou.
But so far nobody has turned up any hard evidence to show that wolves have any significant impact on mountain caribou populations.
Certainly any hungry wolf that got a chance would take down a caribou. But the highly mobile caribou herds are so small and so widely spread, it may be that wolves just don't feed on them very much.
But killing wolves is something that's been in the B.C. government's blood for a long time. While trappers, hunters and ranchers have done a good job of controlling local populations, the government has several times sanctioned large-scale control programs. In the fifties, bounties were offered, and in the sixties, the government was doing aerial drops of poisoned baits. Those programs ended because of public protests, but the government seems to be quietly moving in that direction again.
"We don't fully know what's going on because the information just isn't available," Ms. Sherrod said.
"But what we do know about wolf-control programs is that the killing has to be massive and prolonged if you really want to wipe out wolves," she said.
"What happens when you first start killing them is that the pack compensates by increasing the birth rate. They have more pups. The packs scatter. And so you end up with more wolves in more places."
Ms. Sherrod says when that happens, the predator-control experts argue for an increased kill, to stop the infestation from spreading.
"What we have seen happen is that wolf-control programs get more brutal and unrelenting as they go along," Mr. Sherrod said. "When predator-control programs start, one way or another they eventually devolve to the worst level. We've seen wolf poisoning in the past in B.C. and I fear that sooner or later, that's where we'll end up again."
If that happens it may be a while before the public learns about it - because, in B.C., not much is said about the killing of wolves.
Thanks to Mark Hume for this story.