Wick Beach reopened Friday, but dogs won’t be welcomed back right away.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve officials shut down the beach and surrounding area after a wolf attacked a dog Thursday morning.
“What was particularly concerning about this morning’s incident is that the dog was actually on a leash at the time of the attack,” the Park’s resource conservation manager Renee Wissink told the Westerly News on Thursday. “Normally wolves won’t go after dogs that are on leash…The wolf was very bold.”
The dog survived the attack but Wissink said “there was definitely contact and sustained contact between the dog and the wolf.”
The attack prompted an immediate 24-hour shut down of the beach to give Wissink’s team space to haze the animal and try to re-instill a natural fear of humans.
“We have air-horns. We have special shells that we shoot out of a shotgun. They’re called bangers and screamers because they do just that: they create an explosive noise or a screaming noise,” Wissink said.
“The one we will be using on this animal is bean bag projectiles. They’re meant to hit a large muscle mass like the rump, so they do create a pain stimulus. The idea there is to try to do some aversive conditioning to associate people with negative things so that [wolves] are going to stay away from people and their dogs.”
He said the wolf is believed to be the same one that has been reported following people and their pets along Florencia Beach and noted its behaviour suggests significant habituation and no fear of humans.
“If this wolf continues to exhibit this behaviour, if the habituation has gone too far, then, in the end, there may be no other option but to destroy it. But, that would be our absolute last option,” he said.
“The absolute last thing we want to do is destroy an animal….Wolves are an integral part of the ecosystem here and also highly respected by our First Nations. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation for example has made it very clear that the wolf is a very sacred animal to them and they don’t want to see those animals destroyed.”
In an effort to give the wolf every chance to succeed, survive, and become wild again, Wissink said the Park has put a one-week dog ban in place throughout the entire Long Beach Unit.
“We’re still not getting the level of compliance that we would like with the dogs off-leash issue and we really need people to help us here, particularly locals,” he said. It’s often not a wildlife problem, it’s more a people problem. The wildlife is learning their bad behaviours from us and they pay the price in the end.”
While the dog that was attacked on Thursday was on a leash at the time, Wissink suggested the wolf’s behaviour stemmed from seeing other dogs off-leash.
“I think it’s an escalation as a result of people not having their dogs on leash previously,” he said. “They’ve learned that dogs off leash are easy targets and then they learn that dogs are easy targets whether they’re on or off-leash.”
Dogs, by law, must be leashed at all times within the Park, but too many visitors are struggling to understand the importance of that law and, Wissink said, talks about enhanced enforcement are ongoing.
“It’s a huge problem and we really would like to find the mechanism to bring better compliance and, I think, locals can be one part of that solution by setting good examples and being ambassadors. But, aside from that, we are exploring other things that we might do…We are going to look at other options that we might institute in the future, but those are still under discussion,” he said.
“Our beaches are really important for shorebirds during the migration. They really rely on our beaches to feed and build up their energies before they make those long distance flights either up to the arctic for their breeding season or back to their winter ranges. So our beaches are really critical for them and being disturbed really alters that energetic balance.”
He said humans and wildlife can coexist on the West Coast but steps must be taken to keep both sides safe.
“Even though, here in the Long Beach Unit and in the two districts [Tofino and Ucluelet], we’re almost getting a million visitors a year here, if everybody does their bit, we can coexist with these large carnivores: our wolves, our cougars, our bears. We can do that,” he said.
“Wolves have an important ecological function. They have an important cultural function and, I think, they’re important to the visitor experience. The visitors know that there are wild wolves on our landscape, but to maintain them there everybody’s got to do their bit.”
He urges locals to be good examples by leashing their pets when they’re at the Park.
“One of the things we hear from visitors is, ‘I came here and had my dog on its leash, but then I saw other people with their dog’s off leash so I thought it was OK,’” he said.
“A lot of our visitors come from away and they don’t understand our wildlife situation. Our local citizens do and if we can get them to be ambassadors and set good examples then that would really help us go a long way.”
He added the leash problem is not isolated within the Park’s boundaries and said Coastal collaboration is needed.
“We need a solution here that goes right across the peninsula,” he said. “It’s not just a Park problem, it’s also in both Tofino and Ucluelet, so we’d like to come up with some joint solutions that would for everybody.”
He added the Park welcomes roughly 950,000 visitors each year and recent survey results suggests at least 10 per cent of them are bringing dogs with them.
“It’s a large number of dogs and a large number of dogs off-leash, but we have to slowly build the momentum so we get beyond that tipping point,” he said.
“When I was a child nobody wore seat-belts and we thought that was normal, but now if you see somebody not wearing a seatbelt they’re the exception. That’s where we need to get to with this dogs off leash business.”