Canis Lupus Crassodon (The Coastal Grey Wolf)

Coastal Grey WolfThe Information provided below was assembled by Diana Lukinuk at the request of West Coast Aquatic Safaris and various other members of the community.  Diana Was recently featured in the Tourism Tofino Blog, Tofino Today. “Diana earned her Bachelor of Science in animal biology at the University of Alberta, then headed west to British Columbia to put her education into practice.  The journey to Tofino can be be windy and adventurous, as Diana spent two years working toward wolf conservation at the Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre in B.C.’s ski-friendly East Kootenay region.  With the recent re-emergence of the endangered coastal grey wolf (Canis lupus crassodon) in Tofino, Diana is a strong advocate for seeking better understanding of this intelligent animal and is especially thrilled to spot a wolf on a marine excursion”.

The grey wolf (Canis lupus) has always embodied the mystery of nature, but also tends to invoke a primal sense of fear in many people. This fear is programmed from the moment we are born, thanks to all the stories starring the “big bad wolf”. Even the haunting sound of their howl draws on something deep and instinctive inside us, stirring emotions that we cannot quite comprehend. They are a symbol of our own wild nature, and the rapidly disappearing untamed wilderness of the world.

Our West coast communities have recently experienced an intense focus on the coastal wolf species, as frequency of sightings has increased in the past few years. Social media has facilitated a great deal of discussion and debate on the topic, and this can be a very helpful tool, provided that the information exchanged is accurate.  We have also seen two very recent television news stories about the changing behaviour of these wolves, as they have been travelling through and interacting with our coastal communities. I’d like to take this opportunity to dispel some of the myths surrounding these wild and beautiful animals, for their sake as well as ours.

To begin with, although attacks on human by wolves have occurred in North America, they’re extremely rare and can almost always be avoided by changes in human behaviour.  They are typically much more afraid of us than we are of them, and for good reason. Our tendency to vilify the wolf has created a public desire to eliminate them from populated areas, and wolf culls are not an unusual thing, even in our modern age. However, what many do not realize is that wolves play a very important predatory role, balancing out many of the species around them. We saw an ideal example of this when wolves were systematically eliminated from Yellowstone National Park, causing the entire ecosystem to collapse.  To save the ecological health of Yellowstone, the Park implemented a re-introduction program which was an incredible success, restoring the proper balance of predator and prey.

What most people here in Clayoquot Sound are concerned about, are wolves that have been sighted regularly in and around town.  Our coastal wolf species has tended to avoid populated areas in the past, but recently they have started incorporating our communities into their large territories.  At this point, we are experiencing what could become a habituated wolf population if we do not act appropriately. Habituation occurs when animals regularly visit populated areas and start to lose their natural fear of human beings, sometimes adapting to find new prey species or incorporating garbage as a food source. This is the point at which wolves can become dangerous, if we do not remind them that they should avoid human beings. Currently, there is a pending regional application to bring a terrific wildlife education program called WildSafeBC to our region.  Many agencies have worked together in this effort, including Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, Tofino, Ucluelet, Tla-o-qui-aht, BC Parks, Parks Canada and the BC COS.  However, in the meantime, I feel it is essential to explain the best steps we can take to ensure our peaceful coexistence with these animals.

1.        People should report all sightings and encounters of wolves, cougars, or bears immediately to the RAPP line: 1-877-952-7277. The BC Conservation Officer Service is the agency of authority for human-wildlife conflict situations in our communities. Many people will not report their sightings either because they worry a CO might destroy the animal, or they think the sighting is not important. Neither of these ideas is true, and in fact it is quite essential to report each sighting. Tracking when and where animals are sighted can greatly assist in determining if unwanted patterns are developing; if certain areas/residences have more conflict than others.  This allows for early education measures to take place (i.e. bringing pets inside at night, stop feeding deer or raccoons, etc.)

2.        We are lucky enough to be surrounded by all kinds of wildlife.  That is a big part of why many of us choose to live here at the “end of the road”.  However, please do not attract wildlife into your backyard, either intentionally or unintentionally.  Never feed wildlife, big or small.  Feeding deer, geese, squirrels, or raccoons, besides being dangerous for animal and human health and being unethical, will attract large carnivores that prey on these species.  Wolves, like bears, can be attracted to garbage when hungry.  Keep garbage indoors until the morning of pick up, and clean off you BBQ grill or store it inside.

3.        Although the risk of wolf attacks on humans remains extremely low, that risk is elevated for our unleashed pets.  If you choose to have a domesticated animal living in our coastal communities, it is absolutely necessary to take appropriate precautions.  Please keep your dogs on leash if you want them to remain safe, especially if you are in a remote location or are walking at night.  Do not let your pets run free in the neighborhood, as roaming cats and dogs are easy and inviting prey for wolves and cougars.  Feed pets inside, or at least bring dishes inside when they are finished.

4.        Prevent wolves and cougars from becoming comfortable around people and high use human areas (habituation).  Some people are thrilled to see a wolf in real life, but if you observe a wolf passing by from a distance, leave it at that.  Do not try to make it stop or stay to get a better picture, or so you can have a special experience.  This is selfish behavior that will not benefit the wolf.  Also avoid stopping to watch wolves in your vehicle at close range, as they quickly learn that vehicles and their occupants are safe.  If a wolf is doing more than just passing by (perhaps investigating areas further, sniffing potential food sources), do what you can to discourage the animal. Bang pots and pans together, yell, wave your arms, or anything that is loud and disruptive.  I once chased away a garbage-hungry bear with a hair dryer, and it worked remarkably well.  In effect, you are teaching the animal that this not a place for it stop and get food.

Please share this information with both locals and tourists, as it will take a consistent effort to prevent habituation from endangering our coastal wolf population.  We all chose to live in communities that are surrounded by rainforest and wildlife, rather than concrete and metal, and that is a beautiful thing.  If all of us work together, we can find a way to coexist peacefully with these intelligent and highly social animals for many generations to come.

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