Not so long ago it was accepted that there was no wolf population in the Okanagan, but that’s certainly not the case today and wolves have been sighted close to human populations in the valley this fall.
Wildlife biologist Brian Harris with the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry in Penticton, says he estimates, based on both anecdotal and scientific data, that there are 80 to 100 wolves in this area.
As a result, an open season for hunting wolves, with a bag limit of three, was opened by the province in 2012.
Harris noted that prior to their return to the Okanagan, there were populations of wolves all around the valley and those have now ‘spilled over’ into the Okanagan.
Two weeks ago, a forestry crew member out of Merritt who was working in the forest near that community during the day with her two dogs, found herself being hunted by a pack of wolves who surrounded her.
She yelled at them and convinced them to back off and her dogs went after them, but it proved to be fatal for one of them.
His attack permitted her to reach her truck, along with both dogs, but one of the dogs did not survive.
The incident serves as a warning to people either working or recreating in the wild around the Okanagan, to be prepared to meet wolves.
“There’s no reason to panic,” Harris emphasized, but he said people should be prepared to defend themselves from an attack.
Wolves normally prey on deer, moose, elk and smaller mammals, including pets.
Even mature bull moose are vulnerable to predation by wolves in winter, he explained. They lose bone mass and nutrition to the growth of large antlers in late summer and early fall, causing a temporary osteoporosis and brittle bones. Then they go into the rut in October, during which they don’t eat, so by the time winter sets in, they’re not in good condition.
That leaves them vulnerable to attack by a pack of wolves, particularly when the snow gets deep and forms a crust, causing moose to have trouble getting around, but allowing the wolf to pad around on top.
Normally, grey wolves tend to be secretive and nocturnal.
Harris said he gathered his anecdotal information by keeping track of accounts from sportsmen, ranchers, guide outfitters and Conservation Officers for three years, and found when he plotted them on a map, there were two big clusters of reports in the Grand Forks and the Cherryville areas, but there were reports of them all over the Okanagan.
They can hunt in a very large range, but sometimes their ranges overlap, he said.
Presently, there is a healthy moose population in the Okanagan, and elk are also doing well, said Harris. While mule deer populations are spotty, white-tailed deer are holding their own in number.