We Asked a Conservation Expert If Miley Cyrus Is Helping Wolves

The singer made a plea to her fans to petition British Columbia's wolf-killing program.

(Photos: Mark Ralston and Joel Sartore/Getty Images)

Sep 9, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When Miley Cyrus’ dog Floyd was killed by coyotes last year, the singer spent weeks grieving on tour, crying onstage and dedicating songs to the Alaskan Klee Kai.

On Tuesday, the 22-year-old pop singer took to her Instagram to mourn the loss of another kind of four-legged, fur-covered creature: the wild wolves being hunted in the mountains just north of the U.S. border.

“Why is the British Columbia government killing our wolves?” read a meme Cyrus posted to her 28 million followers. Some of them applauded her advocacy, while others accused her of misrepresenting the facts.

RELATED: Canada Wants to Kill Gray Wolves to Save Another Struggling Species

The debate that unfolded on Cyrus’ Instagram is emblematic of the larger controversy surrounding the annual wolf culls initiated last winter by British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The initiative, which involves shooting groups of wolves from helicopters, has been framed as a measure to protect the region’s endangered caribou, but animal activists say it’s cruel and ineffective.

“It’s making the wolves pay with their lives for land mismanagement for decades,” said Michaela Montaner, a spokesperson for Pacific Wild, a Canadian conservation nonprofit. “This is one of those glaring examples of irrational policy making, and people are looking at the wolf cull and saying, ‘Where are you guys getting your evidence?’ ”

Greig Bethel, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, directed TakePart to an April press release describing the five-year initiative, which this year resulted in the removal of 84 wolves—11 from the South Selkirk Mountains and 73 from the South Peace region—out of a total provincial population of roughly 8,500.

The government has identified wolf predation as a leading cause of death for the caribou population, which was nearly halved between 2009 and 2012, according to the press statement. The cull—intended to be a “short term” solution to save the caribou—comes on the heels of a deal the government made with the West Moberly First Nations tribe in 2012 to increase the caribou population by 10 percent in the South Peace region.

But many scientists and conservationists say killing wolves will hardly make an impact on the caribou’s decline. The real problem for caribou is habitat decline, mainly because of the logging, oil, and gas industries. That theory is largely supported by a 2014 study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. When Canadian and American researchers analyzed a recent Alberta wolf cull that took place over seven years and resulted in the loss of 841 wolves, they found that it had little effect on boosting—let alone stabilizing—the caribou population. Researchers recommended that management programs such as wolf culls be combined with habitat conservation efforts.

“Every other mitigation effort, including addressing habitat protection and recovery, has already been well underway for some time,” Bethel said via email. He added that roughly 266 acres of caribou habitat are protected from industrial activity in the South Selkirks, with about 150 acres closed to snowmobilers.

While the government has made strides to incorporate habitat recovery into its plan to save the caribou, that hasn’t made it any less controversial among animal activists. Earlier this year, Pacific Wild launched a Change.org petition aimed at ending the ministry’s wolf cull program, which is set to commence again this winter. It’s the same petition Cyrus begged her fans to sign to “stop killing these beautiful creatures,” as she wrote on Instagram. Montaner says the social media shout-out came as a welcome surprise.

“Most people don’t wish for their website to crash, but that was a good crash,” she said, adding that Pacific Wild’s site went down owing to a surge of traffic about two hours after Cyrus posted her plea. Montaner says she had no idea Cyrus had been planning to promote the conservation organization and consequently wasn’t able to quantify how many new signatures were added to the petition on Tuesday, but it now hovers at about 3,000 short of its goal of 200,000.

“We obviously want to deliver the petition to Christy Clark, our premier here in British Columbia, and really emphasize the level of public concern around this,” Montaner said. “So far the response from the British Columbia government has been discouraging, and we are considering all options at this point in terms of legal and policy response.”

With the petition goal almost met, there’s no sign that Cyrus’ wolf campaign will slow down any time soon. On Wednesday, the weed-loving songster Instagrammed a thank-you note from Pacific Wild that suggested there could be room for a collaboration between her and the conservation organization.