Many in the Sooke area are heartbroken that a wolf pack that no one was complaining about may have been wiped out.
FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, naturalist and wildlife researcher Gary Schroyen followed the activities of five wolves that ranged around Metchosin and East Sooke.
In many ways, images captured on Schroyen’s wildlife cameras demonstrated that the pack, which he named the Meteask wolf pack, could live harmoniously among humans.
Most area residents were unaware of the proximity of the wolves, which lived on deer and small mammals, and Scott Norris of the BC Conservation Officer Service confirmed that there have been no reports of the pack killing pets or livestock.
“We’re not really getting any [complaints]…Nothing more than a sighting or a potential sighting. We haven’t had calls from concerned people at all,” Norris told Focus.
All of which makes the deliberate killing of the wolves more tragic, say residents and wildlife observers who are mourning the loss of the animals and pushing for the provincial government to tighten regulations around wolf hunting and trapping.
“This is a prime example, a model example of a wolf pack that can co-exist with people,” Schroyen said.
Naturalist Gary Schroyen
The wolves were apparently trapped by trophy hunter Jacine Jadresko of Victoria, who goes by the name of the Inked Huntress and hunts animals around the world.
Jadresko, who could not be contacted by Focus, previously said on social media she was aiming to remove an entire pack of wolves in the Sooke area because they were threatening people and attacking pets. She then posted photos of herself with two dead wolves.
The loss is felt deeply by Schroyen, who uses a series of wildlife cameras, placed strategically in well-used wolf territory with the help of Shadow, his 13-year-old border collie who sniffs out wolf scat and identifies scent markings and scuffs.
“I have spent maybe 1,000 hours researching these wolves,” he said.
Over the last year Schroyen, who has also studied other wolf packs on Vancouver Island, has often heard howls from the Meteask pack—frequently close by—and has gathered numerous videos, photos and recordings, but has never encountered the animals face to face.
“I was able to identify the different wolves based on their tail markings and it is clear there are five different individuals,” said Schroyen, who did not previously disclose information about the wolves for their own protection.
But, after more than a month without any sign of the pack, he is convinced they are all dead and he has posted a poignant video with the introduction “In memory of the wolves that I have come to know as the Meteask Wolf Pack. The wolves that chose to co-exist among the people of Metchosin and East Sooke.”
“The Wolves Among Us,” a short video by Gary Schroyen
The video opens with a wolf joyfully playing with its food—tossing a dead squirrel in the air—and footage of the wolves at night, passing the camera in formation.
It also includes pictures, taken February 6 and 7, of Jadresko with two dead wolves and concludes with images taken about 10 days later of a lone wolf panting, sniffing and walking slowly down a path.
Schroyen believes that was the last wolf left in the pack and some of the final camera images show her heading towards the area where he knew snares had been set.
The traps were on property close to Beecher Bay and, judging from blood on the rear leg of one of the wolves, Schroyen believes they were trapped and then shot.
For days before the last images were taken, the lone wolf returned to the same area, he said.
“It led me to believe she was searching for the rest of her pack and just doing loops around. It’s incredibly rare for the same wolf to keep coming back to the same area,” he said.
Schroyen knows it would be unusual for the wolf to leave her territory and he believes she is dead, which is why he decided to post the video.
“The pictures speak for themselves. I just wanted to show the public the side of wolves that the media don’t usually show,” he said.
UPDATE Following initial publication of this story, a spokesperson for Jadresko told FOCUS that Jadresko has seen evidence on her own trail cameras as recent as two weeks ago (as of March 30, 2021) that the wolf pack is alive and well.
Community outraged and heartbroken at wolf killing
People have forgotten how to live with animals, said Schroyen, who is “sickened” by people who kill for the sake of killing and then glorify the deaths on social media.
A 2017 CBC Fifth Estate story on Jadresko describes her hunting bears and giraffes and her desire to kill an elephant. She told the Fifth Estate that kill pictures demonstrate “respect for the animal.” After killing a lion she posted pictures of herself with the dead animal and then a post-taxidermy photo with the caption “Look who’s all stuffed and ready to come home with me.”
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait has fired off a letter to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Katrine Conroy to share the community outrage at the destruction of the pack and to support an Oak Bay resolution calling for a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait
The resolution, which is going to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities for support, asks the Province for a moratorium until there is a “scientific, data-driven and evidence-based study that includes consultation with the Island’s Indigenous communities, to re-examine the efficacy of unrestricted wolf harvesting practices and their impacts on the Island’s biodiversity, wildlife ecology and sustainability of the resident wolf population.”
Many in Sooke were sickened by the “callous threat” by a Victoria big-game hunter to trap and kill an entire pack, especially as so many groups are working to protect wildlife and habitat, says the letter.
The Sooke organization Project HOWL (Help Our Wolves Live), founded by teenagers Finn and Chloe Unger, has documented packs of Vancouver Island “sea wolves” roaming the Sooke Hills and looked at the role the wolves play in a balanced ecosystem while the Wild Wise Sooke Society and Coexisting with Carnivores have a living-with-wolves working group aiming to educate people on the importance of wolves as a keystone species.
Sam Webb, Wild Wise president, said numerous people have shared videos or tapes of howling wolves, both from the Meteask pack and a couple of packs in the Sooke Hills.
“We feel we got to know them, not necessarily on a personal level, but the community really started to love them,” she said.
Sadly, Jadresko apparently killed the wolves legally and there is outrage in Sooke and surrounding communities and concern about the future of other packs, Webb said.
“To take out a whole pack is just not good wildlife management,” she said, pointing out that controlling outside cats and keeping dogs on leash are better strategies. “You can see the comments of people who are just heartbroken that this happened right in our backyard,” she said.
Sooke is growing and there is a concerted effort to make residents aware that, in a rural community, there is a need to co-exist with the carnivore population, said Tait, adding that most people thought it was cool to have a wolf pack in the area.
“Then we find out that they have been trapped and murdered. How long have they been here, just co-existing peacefully?” Tait asked. “So then this one selfish person decided on her own to do this…What is it—boredom? You’re just going to kill these animals because you can’t travel and kill some endangered species elsewhere because of COVID. I’m so disgusted by it, it really makes me upset,” she said.
Tait pointed out that people are fined for poaching crabs, but there is no penalty for killing wolves. “They have no protection. They are treated like vermin and there needs to be some level of protection and a consequence,” she said.
Almost 72,000 people have signed a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping, as population data is scarce and relies largely on reports from hunters.
A new poll, conducted by Mario Canseco Research and commissioned by The Fur-Bearers, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, shows public opinion appears to swing solidly in favour of more controls.
The survey found 87 percent of those polled disagree with hunting or trapping wolves to increase ungulate hunting opportunities, 90 percent disagree with killing wolves for fur and 91 percent disagree with “recreational” killing of wolves.
A large majority of British Columbians also disagree with killing wolves with neck snares, leg hold traps, poison or aerial gunning—a tactic used by the provincial government to control wolves in areas where caribou are threatened—according to the survey.
However, more than half of British Columbians surveyed agree with eliminating wolves when they kill unprotected livestock.
The Province has no information about the distribution of wolf packs, but estimates there are about 250 wolves on Vancouver Island and the ministry says the population is not under threat.
Hunters on Vancouver Island have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting licence, with no special tag required, meaning the Province relies on hunters self-reporting.
There are 217 wildlife management units in BC where wolves are likely to live; 115 of those areas have no bag limits or closed season on wolves.
Conroy has said she will look at closing “loopholes” in the wolf trapping and hunting rules. When asked whether the actions of Jadresko were legal and ethical, she pointed to a previous statement to Focus.
In that emailed statement Conroy said “The hunters I know are conservationists too; they support activities that protect populations. This kind of story is something that most hunters would find offensive. This person is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile.”
Repercussions of eliminating wolves
The basic problem is that the government and conservation officers continue to treat wolves as vermin and encourage hunters to kill them, said Gary Allan of the SWELL Wolf Education Centre in Nanaimo.
Valid scientific evidence is needed to justify killing wolves, not anecdotal information from hunters and ranchers, said Allan, describing hunting surveys, used to assess wolf populations, as useless.
Allan also noted that eliminating an entire pack is likely to have unforeseen consequences. History shows that cougars will likely move into the vacuum until another wolf pack repopulates the area, said Allan.
“If you get a younger wolf pack that is not as accomplished in hunting their traditional prey, experience has shown us they will predate on livestock,” he said.
“So you see the damage that this one trapper/hunter will do to both the wolves, the livestock and humans in the Metchosin/East Sooke area,” he said.
Many Indigenous communities revere wolves as an integral part of the culture, but the question of hunting and trapping is complicated and controversial according to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs president.
“It’s very much a part of our spiritual connection to the land and our beliefs,” he said. “But a major concern to a lot of different groups, including Indigenous hunters, is a wolf sustains itself on 40 pounds of meat a day, so a pack of five can have a devastating effect on the population of deer and moose and caribou that sustain Indigenous people,” he said.
The essential part of the equation is for the NDP government to consult Indigenous communities on any changes to regulations, Phillip said.
Meanwhile, Schroyen has summed up his feelings with a quote from author Farley Mowat, which he used in the video.
“We have doomed the wolf, not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be—the mythologized epitome of a savage, ruthless kill, which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
Video of Finn and Chloe Unger, Sooke residents, on wolves as a keystone species: