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General News · 29th January 2009
Sarah Downey
Friends of Cortes Island Society
By Sarah Downey

On January 17th, Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) hosted an informational event about wolves on Cortes Island. Over 150 people gathered in the Tiber Bay room at Linnaea School to learn from invited experts Bob Hanson and Ben York, share their wolf experiences and ask questions. The need for this event arose out of an increasing number of wolf sightings and encounters on the Island over the past few months. Evidence is showing that we may be experiencing the highest number of wolf encounters ever remembered on Cortes Island.

Bob Hanson, from Tofino, is a wildlife/human conflict specialist in the Pacific Rim National reserve. We had the opportunity to learn from his in-depth research over the past 10 years in the park. Although his experience was from a national park perspective, his research can be applied to wolf behavior here as well.

In the National park in 1998 there was an increased number of wolf sightings especially amongst people with dogs. Within a year there were over 10 attacks on dogs and many interactions with people. Previous to this there had been wolf sightings only every couple of years and even those were brief and fleeting. Three years after sightings became common, wolf attacks started happening. By 2003 there was a record number of encounters and areas of the park had to be closed for the first time ever. A dynamic research team was put together that included ministry, business, wilderness guides, academics, scientists, researchers and first nations. They focused on looking at the links between carnivores, human behaviors and landscape dynamics to find what lead to this kind of aggressive wolf behavior. Research found that there was a very clear reason why the wolf behavior had changed.

The situation in the Pacific Rim was that residents on an island socialized a couple of wolf pups to humans. The pups, which were part of a larger wolf pack, would walk with the people on the beach and were fed by humans as well. Sea kayaking people were thrilled to be able to see the wolves on the beach and enticed them to get even closer. A photographer showed people feeding hot dogs to the wolves. Those encounters became more intense over time. The wolves became food conditioned. This triggered a whole other set of wolf behaviors. They became assertive about getting their people food. As soon as campers would land on the beach the wolves would show up for food. They would go into the hatches of boats and find leftovers in fire pits. Instead of skirting around the edges of campgrounds, wolves started moving straight through them. The wolves got more and more aggressive, pulled food out of tents and growled if people tried to scare them off. What started as innocent pups being fed by people resulted in wolves that became trained to expect food rewards from people and aggressively so.

Bob summarized the change in wolf behavior. “Loss of fear from routing interaction and food conditioning= aggressive wolf behavior.”

Other interesting information was learned from their research as well. Upon analyzing the scat of wolves they found, to their surprise, that deer did not make up the majority of the wolves diet. They were found to be eating a whole variety of prey that included raccoon, river otter, mink, deer, seal and shore crabs. Shoreline areas are becoming a more common place for wolves to forage. A lower deer population has given wolves strong incentive to adapt to a new reality. Part of their adaptation has been overcoming their fear of people. Bob states, “The wolves do not know that they are heading down the road to conflict with people, they are simply adapting to the cues they have been given.”

The researchers explored landscape dynamics on Vancouver Island and found that there is a low deer population due to a high percentage of forest that is around 20 years old. Bob explained that, “In a clear cut of this age, the tree canopy doesn’t allow sunlight to penetrate the forest floor and there is little forage value for deer. When a plantation is 80-100 years old, good deer habitat becomes available.”

The following “emerging impressions” resulted from the research.

*With low deer populations on the large landscape, wolves and cougars are adapting their behaviors to access prey in human use areas like shorelines and newly disturbed edge habitat in and around communities.

*Human behaviors affect carnivore behaviors.

*Carnivores are very adaptive and can learn and respond relatively quickly.

*Humans are entering a new era in their relationship with carnivores.

Ben York is a conservation officer with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment and is Field Supervisor in the North Island Zone, our jurisdiction. Ben began his talk by expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to be invited to Cortes in this educational role, rather than being called in to “remove” an animal. Part of his work involves educating communities on how to prevent attacks.

Prior to the community meeting our invited wolf experts had personal conversations with individuals and small groups to educate and be educated about the current wolf situation on Cortes. Ben came to this meeting with an informed sense of the wolf situation here to be able to share with us the findings of our encounters. According to Ben York based on the wolf behavior exhibited on Cortes Island, “We have wolves on the island who are very habituated. There is a level of tolerance for these animals that is endangering them.” Ben clearly outlined the ways that we can help better this situation. The following is a summary of what we can do to keep wolves wild.

1. Never feed wolves
It is illegal and completely irresponsible as it endangers you, your fellow community members and the wolves!

*Take care not to leave meat scraps out near your home or in your compost pile. Dispose of these responsibly; dig into a pit or feed to the crabs.

2. Do not feed deer or raccoons;
they are prey species of wolves. Food conditioned deer and raccoons WILL attract wolves to your doorstep and your neighbors. Be responsible to yourself and your community.

3. Keep yourself safe
Haze wolves When you encounter them in a residential area i.e. near your house, your neighbor's, the community halls, stores, schools etc.
Wave your arms to make yourself look bigger, shout loudly, use noisemakers, throw sticks/stones, and use a slingshot or air horn.

Let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they need to fear you and you will not tolerate their presence in this place!

Use your most assertive and confident body language!

*Take bear spray along as an extra precaution when walking the dog, hiking alone off the beaten track or working the beaches at night.

4. Keep your pets safe

Dogs are safer when they leashed when walked; an unleashed dog is seen as prey by the wolves.

*Ensure all pets are secured in sturdy, predator proof areas outside or kept inside your house at night.

*Keep your outside pet feeding area clean and never leave uneaten food in them.

*Do not take your dogs with you when hiking in natural areas frequented by wolves i.e. Carrington, Von Donop, Hank's Beach, Marina Island etc.

5. Practice good animal husbandry

Ensure all livestock are secured inside sturdy, predator proof structures at night.

*If wolves approach livestock during the day, HAZE them; scare them away. It is recommended that rather than using firearms to shoot over their heads, that an air horn or other loud noisemaker is much safer, doesn’t need to be registered and it is the noise the wolves they will respond to.

*After butchering livestock, dispose of carcasses responsibly - buried deeply and ideally well away from residential areas.

Also importantly, we are reminded that if we find ourselves in wolf territory, and encounter a wolf, that we should kindly take our leave of the area.

Ultimately this was a timely and valuable event where we were able to gather on mass and receive the same information. It only takes one person’s careless behavior to endanger other humans and wolves. Please, if you attended this event, share what you learned with others. We can all help the safety of wolves and humans by educating people, especially visitors to the Island, about the importance of not allowing wolves to become habituated to humans.

FOCI is willing to collect wolf data for the island. We invite people to drop by the office and share their wolf encounters with us. We have an Island map on the wall where wolf sightings are being mapped. When you see a wolf – put a mark where you saw it on the map and we will learn about their range and frequented locations. We also have sighting forms available for people to fill out that get collected by the regional conservation officer. FOCI would welcome any individual or small group that would like to care take the collection of wolf sighting and encounter data. This could be very valuable information for us to store. Many many thanks to Sabina Leader-Mense for being the organizational force behind this event.

The Friends of Cortes Society office is open on Fridays from 1-4pm
Leave messages anytime at 250 935-0087

Environmental Integrity through Community Responsibility.

Comment by Heather & Michael on 16th February 2009
Thank you so much, Sarah, for the thorough and informative article/report on the wolf meeting. We are off Island and could not attend, though we very much wanted to. Your summary is very informative!

I am curious as to whether there was any discussion about whether there is less food for them now or if the packs have increased in size or divided. Is the only reason that there are increased sitings because of the wolves becoming increasingly familar with humans?
Have there been any actual attacks of either humans or dogs on Cortes?

Thank you for any input you may have.

Thank you
Comment by Hannu on 10th February 2009
Thanks Foci for the event, and thank you Sarah for an excellent summary of the talk
Comment by Allan Campbell, Whaletown on 1st February 2009
You're to be commended for organizing this event and for the Tideline report. For years our dogs and my wife and I have hiked the trails in the Whaletown Commons area, we've never seen or heard a wolf, and only rarely have we seen scat. For those who would like to know more about the lives of wolves, we can recommend the following:

"The Last Wild Wolves, Ghosts of the Great Bear Rainforest", by Ian McAlister (Greystone Books, 2007.) Based on the work of researchers associated with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

"Of Wolves and Men", by Barry Lopez.

Comment by Peter Jackel on 31st January 2009
I forgot to go to the meeting so thank you heaps, Sarah, for submitting such a lucid and thorough summary.