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The wolf cull resulted in the shooting of 84 wolves in its first phase last winter, and the program calls for the killing of 100 to 166 wolves annually for an undetermined number of years.

The B.C. government's controversial wolf cull is being challenged in court by two environmental groups that say the program fails to meet the legal requirements of proper wildlife management.

Pacific Wild and the Valhalla Wilderness Society have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court calling for the cancellation of a wildlife permit that authorizes the wolf kill, and for an injunction prohibiting the cull until the province has met its legal obligations under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

The government is hoping to kill hundreds of wolves over the next several years, primarily in the Selkirk and South Peace regions, to reduce predation on endangered herds of mountain caribou.

But Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild, says the cull, in which wolves are tracked and shot from helicopters, is really designed to keep caribou habitat available for logging and other industrial activity.

He argues that without the cull, B.C. would have to set aside large areas of forest as critical habitat to meet its requirements under SARA.

Petition to the court

"What we are hoping is the courts will look at the substantive issues around the provincial government's responsibility to protect adequate levels of critical caribou habitat," Mr. McAllister said on Wednesday. "We're hopeful the information we have provided will show that the government has grossly underestimated the amount of [caribou] habitat needed, that they haven't lived up to their obligations."

In their petition to court, the two environmental groups state that a regional wildlife manager can issue a permit "to destroy wildlife" only when that wildlife has been determined to be dangerous to public safety.

The petition also states that the government issued permits "without evidence to reasonably conclude that culling wolves would save the identified mountain caribou herds … and without considering whether critical habitat, which is necessary for the recovery of mountain caribou, was available and effectively protected."

The petition also claims that the government "ordered the wolf cull in January 2015 to respond to the forest industry, which was reluctant to forgo logging operations in or near critical [caribou] habitat."

The wolf cull resulted in the shooting of 84 wolves in its first phase last winter, and the program calls for the killing of 100 to 166 wolves annually for an undetermined number of years.

The wolves are tracked after fresh snow has fallen and are shot from the air.

"Our understanding over the last few days is that the wolf cull has started up again," Mr. McAllister said.

"We've just recently had reports from the Selkirks and the Peace region that helicopters, the same companies that have been contracted by the B.C. government for the aerial kill [last winter], have taken to the air and anecdotally there are reports of wolves being killed."

A government spokesman said the cull has resumed in the Selkirks only.

"Wolf removal activities are under way in the South Selkirk this season, but have not yet started in the South Peace," Greig Bethel, a spokesman for the government, confirmed in an e-mail.

Mr. McAllister, whose campaign to stop the hunt has been supported on social media by pop star Miley Cyrus, said the cull is bringing B.C. a lot of bad publicity.

"I think of all the wildlife issues we've worked on over the last 20 years, it's hard to find one that has really brought so much international opposition and condemnation," he said.

But the B.C. government is standing by the controversial project.

In an e-mail, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations stated that the cull is scientifically sound and is needed to save caribou populations at risk of extinction.

"The threats to mountain caribou survival are loss of habitat and wolf predation," the statement said. "We have protected 2.2 million hectares of mountain caribou habitat, and habitat protection and recovery efforts will continue. The leading cause of caribou mortality in the South Selkirk and South Peace is due to wolves. For that reason, government made the difficult decision to remove wolves in those two areas only."

It said the government has not yet seen the claim filed by the environmental groups and so could not comment further.

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