By Nicholas Read, VancouverSun.com
The B.C. government's Vancouver Island wolf extermination program allowed "monster" hybrids to take over the region, a team of scientists said.
From the 1920s until the 1970s, provincial officials tried to rid Vancouver Island of wolves so sport hunters would find it easier to hunt black-tailed deer, the wolves' principal prey.
So when a few hardy wolves swam across from the northern B.C. mainland in the early 1980s, some were unable to find mates.
Instead, they mated with stray dogs.
A Pacific coastal wolf at Pacific Rim national park. The B.C. government's Vancouver Island wolf extermination program allowed 'monster' hybrids to take over the region, a team of scientists said.
Photograph by: Chris Darimont/Raincoast.org, Canwest News Service
The result, according to researchers from the University of Sweden, the Smithsonian Institution and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, was something never documented before in the wild: animals that were neither wolves nor dogs.
Their research is published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Genetics.
So-called wolf hybrids are bred purposely by some breeders as pets, though they are regarded by animal welfare groups as potentially dangerous.
They had never been documented in the wild before.
"If the wolf-control campaign had carried on and kept wild wolves at low levels, we would have had, potentially, a population of monster wolves on Vancouver Island," Raincoast biologist and University of California post-doctoral researcher Chris Darimont said in an interview.
"What our work found is an historical signal of tremendous ecological and social imbalance among wolves as a result of government wolf control."
Darimont said the 200 or so wolves that now live on Vancouver Island are not "monsters."
It's likely, he said, that the hybrids born in the 1980s were unable to survive in the wild and therefore unable to propagate.
Instead, the wolves who were able to find wolf mates became the ancestors of the small population of wild Vancouver Island wolves that now exists.
Wolves can have as many as five pups a year.
"Wolf control is indefensible ethically. I think most British Columbians would agree with that," Darimont said. "What this study contributes to the discourse is additional ecological evidence that wolf control is a very bad idea indeed."
But B.C. government officials dismissed the study's findings.
"While certainly interesting, the research presented here looks at a situation with a very small and geographically isolated sub-population of wolves that resulted from broad-scale eradication attempts early in the previous century. While the genetic conclusions may be relevant in situations where conservation is a concern . . . that situation is not one that represents the current status of grey wolves in B.C.," the government said in a statement.