After months of pressure, B.C. government releases graphic wolf cull photos

Click to play video: 'Controversial wolf kill program photos released by B.C. government'
Controversial wolf kill program photos released by B.C. government
Disturbing content: After years of demands from animal activists, the B.C. government has finally released pictures of its controversial wolf kill program. But at Paul Johnson reports, critics of the program say the pictures might not tell the full story – Apr 20, 2023

After months of pressure from animal rights advocates, the B.C. government has released a limited number of photos of its controversial wolf cull program.

The batch of photos released to Pacific Wild shows dead, bloodied wolves in the snow, most of which appear to have been shot in the head, chest, neck, or spine.

The environmental group’s animal rights lawyer, Rebeka Breder, said the public has an “absolute right” to see images of a program funded through tax dollars. Those released, she added, suggest the program might not be as humane as the provincial government has maintained.

“You can see in some of these pictures where the gunshot wounds go through one side of the chest, out the other,” Breker told Global News on Thursday.

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“Remember, these are people who are killing wolves from moving helicopters, shooting at wolves who are running for their lives. How is possible to have a clean, humane shot from a distance like that?”

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2020 euthanasia guidelines, a gunshot to the brain or upper cervical spine is “optimal for a quick and humane death.”

Click to play video: 'Province says no plans to release photos of controversial wolf cull'
Province says no plans to release photos of controversial wolf cull

The photos, which animal rights groups believe represent a small fraction of those the government has in stock, were released through the freedom-of-information process.

The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, or the Fur-Bearers, initially filed a request it believed ought to have produced the images but didn’t. It later filed a complaint to the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, which told Global News the images are “classified.”

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“Such photos are used strictly by the provincial wildlife veterinarian for assessment purposes, and would not be shared,” Tania Venn, communications director for the department, said in a December email.

Breder said the photos eventually released came after months of pressure from many individuals but did not require animal rights advocates to go to court.

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Nevertheless, she said she would like to see full disclosure of wolf cull footage imagery.

“If they’re releasing only a fraction of the pictures, clearly that means that there is something going on that they don’t want the public to see,” she said.

“It’s a very fundamental right in our democracy that we have the right to know what our government, that we’re funding with our own money, is doing — especially when it has to do with things that are out of our control, out of sight. It’s a way to ensure checks and balances.”

Click to play video: 'Fur-Bearers say documents show ‘inhumane’ approach to wolf cull'
Fur-Bearers say documents show ‘inhumane’ approach to wolf cull

In a Thursday email, the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship said the photos were not withheld from the freedom-of-information package it released.

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“We are committed to animal welfare and the humaneness of our procedures in our predator reduction program,” it wrote, adding that it follows the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.

“The AVMA’s guidelines for euthanasia and depopulation of wild animals also state that the heart and lungs (thoracic cavity) are appropriate targets for gunshot and meet the standards for humane killing.”

In fact, the AVMA guidelines state that the heart, lung and thoracic cavity “may be more appropriate targets” to the brain or cervical spine in the event a shooter isn’t certain they can hit those targets, or where “a sufficient number of highly skilled professionals are not available.”

More than 1,000 wolves have been shot to protect endangered caribou since 2015, but an audit of the program has never been conducted to ensure it complies with best practices and standards.

Third-party audits are common across many industries involving animals, including workplace safety and food safety. Animal welfare auditors have previously called on the province to allow an independent audit of its wolf cull.

“I’ll never forget the day when the McDonald’s vice-president saw a half-dead, emaciated dairy cow go into their product,” auditor Temple Grandin, an animal behaviour and welfare specialist, told Global News in December.

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“(The B.C. wolf cull) program needs to be audited and I recommend the same basic principle … High-up management needs to get on those helicopters and find out what’s going on, third party, and then they do internal audits. You can’t let the fox guard the chickens.”

Click to play video: 'Critics denounce the use of military-grade rifles by province in wolf cull'
Critics denounce the use of military-grade rifles by province in wolf cull

Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said her work to advance external animal welfare auditing has made some of the “biggest differences” of her career. She has helped bring independent oversight to corporations like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, with great success.

Regardless of what the procedure is for humanely killing wolves in B.C., she said, a “really good auditing program” can bring “a whole lot of improvement.”

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The Ministry of Water, Land and Resources maintains the wolf cull is necessary to protect endangered caribou from extinction and ensure “self-sustaining herds thrive long into the future.

“The decision to reduce predator populations to recover caribou populations is not taken lightly,” it wrote on Thursday. “Our approach is based on science and sound wildlife management principles, and we work with local First Nations to incorporate traditional knowledge.”

Click to play video: 'Judge denies group’s request to halt controversial wolf cull'
Judge denies group’s request to halt controversial wolf cull

Meanwhile, multiple environmental groups continue to oppose the cull, as does the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, which called on the province last year to end the program, and instead, prioritize a reduction of resource development — mostly logging — to protect caribou.

“We now face the grave issue of non-Indigenous gun clubs producing ‘killing contests’ and engaging in unethical hunting and culling practices,” it wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to ministers.

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“This is in direct opposition to Indigenous traditional values, reciprocity with our animal relatives and our inherent Title and Rights Holders as the stewards of our lands, and impedes on our legal orders and jurisdiction over our territorial lands.”

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