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General News · 9th May 2010
Sabina Leader Mense
In response to a pronounced change/ shift in the behavior of our local wolf population, Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI), initiated the Cortes Wolf Project in January of 2008. The project objectives are threefold:

1. to provide the Cortes community with the information and resources necessary to reduce conflict with wolves; i.e. to become a "wolf smart" community

2. to respond and report on local wolf behavior in an educated and responsible manner

3. to compile a database on the local wolf population from sighting reports voluntarily submitted by island residents

Modeled on the work of the Wildcoast Project in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (PRNPR), the database can provide us with information on many fronts. Individual wolf identification and associations of individual wolves, give us information on the number of wolves on island and their pack structure. Wolf movements identify travel corridors, and prey species observed being eaten by wolves, indicate their dietary preferences.

In January 2009 and again in January 2010, FOCI extended invitations to Bob Hansen, Wildlife-Human Conflict Specialist/ PRNPR and Ben York, Field Supervisor/ North Vancouver Island Conservation Officer Service, who joined the community to openly discuss how to reduce conflict between ourselves and the wolves.

FOCI is also consulting with Chris Darimont, Coastal Wolf Biologist & Director of Science/ Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Helen Schwantje, Wildlife Veterinarian/ Ecosystems Branch of the Ministry of Environment, to provide the community with the most professional and up-to-date information with respect to wolf behavior, biology and health.

"Education is more effective than enforcement." - Bob Hansen

To date, to the best of our knowledge, we have learned that we have one resident pack of approximately16 wolves; 10-12 black (some with white markings) and 6 brindle. Ninety percent of the sighting reports received to date, relate directly to members of this main pack. This does not negate the presence of other packs on island, either resident or transient, it simply reflects the wolf pack that we observe most frequently. We have clear documentation of smaller transient packs that swim to Cortes and then swim off to surrounding islands. This coastal population of grey wolves are most definitely - marine wolves. Our recorded distribution and movement of wolves on island, clearly shows that the wolves follow the travel corridors identified in the ecosystem mapping carried out by Silva Forest Foundation in 2000. Wild prey species observed being taken by wolves on island include: raccoon, Canada goose, harbour seal and black-tailed deer.

To work towards reducing conflict with wolves, FOCI has prepared and distributed a concise 5 point fact sheet - Learning to Live with Wolves on Cortes Island. This fact sheet is available from the FOCI office and posted throughout the community.

The key to our success is consistency in following the guidelines. The boundaries are presently unclear to the wolves; continue to let them know in no uncertain terms, that close proximity to you and your home space, will NOT be tolerated. Haze them, show clear intent and take on the alpha role.

It is important to understand that when we free-range our poultry flocks in our front & back yards, we are indirectly feeding the wolves and reinforcing the association between ourselves and our home spaces with an easy food source. We fence our gardens to keep out the deer; we also need to fence our chicken runs to keep out the wolves.

Dogs clearly represent a canine threat to the wolves, no matter their size. We have had unfortunate encounters on island between the two canids; dogs act like a magnet for wolves. Always leash your dogs when walking them and carry bear spray or an airhorn to protect yourself and your dog. Bring dogs in at night or make predator proof kennels.

The Wolf, Canis lupus, also known as the grey wolf, the timber wolf, and the tundra wolf, is a member of the order of mammals Carnivora, or meat eaters. The wolf's own family is Canidae, or the dog family. Besides including the wolf, Canis lupus, the genus Canis also includes the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, and the coyote, Canis latrans. -L. David Mech

Helen Schwantje, BC provincial wildlife veterinarian, has asked that we make the community aware of the precautions necessary when encountering wolf scat/ feces.
I quote here from her correspondence.

"Wolves (as well as some other canids – even dogs, although this is not common) can carry a tapeworm in their intestines called Echinococcus granulosus. The eggs of the tapeworm are passed in the feces where the larval stage of the tapeworm develops after consumption, usually in deer species where it causes a cyst to form known as a hydatid cyst. If a human eats (or breathes) in the egg they could be infected. So our advice to people who handle canids or their feces is to wear gloves, if the material is dry, wear a mask. See “hydatid disease”on my website
and for a good photo of the life cycle and other related tapeworm species, see
Bottom line - Children should not be handling wolf feces. Adults can but with precautions."

Comments and questions regarding the possibility of wolf-dog hybrids being the root cause of our recent wolf conflict problems on Cortes, come up repeatedly. I put the question to Helen and include her response here.

"Wolves are a really interesting species, they are above all canids and have high intelligence and flexibility and use opportunities to their advantage. They can breed with dogs and the offspring are fertile. In the wild it does occur but is poorly documented, partly because wolf-dog hybridization is anecdotal (look at some of the history books) and partly because the ability to genetically test for this has only very recently been possible – we know there are dog genes in Vanc Is wolves for example but it's the only BC population that has been looked at in detail.
I am not a behaviourist but I believe that wolf behaviour reflects their experience – as with a dog, if you have ever trained a pet dog you will understand - if they have an experience that is negative they learn from it – to avoid that situation – the opposite is true as well, if they have a positive experience they also learn from that.
If you have seen some changes in behaviour it is very likely that the group of wolves have had some positive human experience and are simply not uncomfortable when sighting humans. There are precedents, some with unfortunate results.
I think it's important to understand that there is no reason to assume that if an animal has a specific genetic profile that it will automatically behave differently from another animal with different genes (in the Vanc Island wolves the amount of dog genetic material is very very slight). Although you can select for some things with breeding programs (such as dogs to herd or dogs that swim), it takes a long time – those behaviours are not likely to be controlled by single genes. I have seen dogs that are more wild in behaviour that some wolves. I don’t believe that dog-wolf hybrids would behave differently in respect to being familiar with humans – however if someone had, for example fed them, they would."

During the community meetings, many more questions came up regarding wolves than could be answered in that short time frame. I refer those interested in learning more about wolves, to the references listed below that I have found helpful and informative.

Upon our request, Raincoast Conservation Foundation has just sent FOCI a copy of the video documentary, Rainwolves, which highlights the research of coastal wolf biologist Chris Darimont in the Central Coast of BC. Watch the flyer for an announcement of the upcoming community showing date.

As the coordinator of the Cortes Wolf Project, I am more than happy to answer questions from the community regarding the project and will refer you to the experts supporting us from afield with respect to questions regarding enforcement, biology and health etc.
We are all learning as we go. Whatever the outcome between ourselves and our local wolves, no one can say that the Cortes community did not rally to respond in an educated, responsible and ethical way in this ongoing, "ancient dispute over territory and food between their clan and ours, …" D.H. Chadwick


The Last Wild Wolves by Ian McAllister, Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont
Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez
The Wolf by L. David Mech
Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation edited by L. David Mech and L. Boitani
Wolf Wars by D.H. Chadwick/ National Geographic/ March 2010

For younger readers:

Julie of the Wolves, Julie and Julie's Wolf Pack, 3 books by Jean Craighead George

Coastal wolf research -
Coastal wolf research -
Wildcoast primer -
Who Speaks for Wolf -
International Wolf Center -