UCLUELET, B.C. — A popular beach along the West Coast of Vancouver Island has been closed as a wolf prowls in the area of the national park.
Parks Canada says its staff are trying to restore a balance between wild animals and people at Wickaninnish Beach, following recent wolf attacks earlier this week in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Ucluelet, B.C.
The beach was closed when a wolf attacked a leashed dog, the second attack in a week.
Renee Wissink, the park's manager of resource conservation, said there have been "a number of close encounters" between one particular wolf and park visitors in recent weeks, including incidents with off-leash dogs.
But on Thursday, the wolf attacked and injured an on-leash dog for the first time, Wissink said.
Part of the beach has now been closed while staff try to "haze" the wolf, using noise and pain deterrents to give it a negative association with people. The pain deterrent is similar to a bean-bag gun used by police.
"A wild wolf should never be approaching people. A wild wolf will go as fast one way as you're going the other. There should be a natural fear of people," Wissink said.
There are a number of wolves in the area and sightings have been more common in recent months, possibly because of the time of year, he said.
But he said this particular animal is behaving in a way that suggests it has had some contact with people in the past.
Chris Darimont, a conservation scientist within the Hakai-Raincoast Foundation at the University of Victoria, said the attack isn't surprising.
"Even something like a poodle that looks nothing like a wolf looks close enough — and more importantly, smells close enough — to a wolf to have a wolf behave very naturally as it would toward any perceived trespasser or interloper on its territory," he said.
People often take their animals into nature, thinking they'll be able to shoo a wolf away from their pet, but they don't realize that wolves move fast and can inflict a lot of damage in a short amount of time, Darimont said.
There's very little someone can do if a wolf attacks their pet, he added.
"Even if you're a giant man with a big stick, if that wolf is intent enough to kill your dog, that dog is in a lot of trouble."
The beach is expected to open again on Saturday, but no dogs will be allowed in the area until at least March 30.
Darimont said he supports the temporary closure and believes wolves will attack other pets if dogs are allowed back on the beach.
"This is not about managing wolves. This should never be about managing wolves. This should be about managing human activity," he said.
Parks Canada is asking people visiting Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to keep their pets on leash and not leave food lying around.
Mike Badry, wildlife conflicts manager with B.C.'s environment ministry, said anyone who spots a wolf should keep their distance.
"You don't want to further habituate that wolf and make it comfortable. The last thing you want to do is try to approach it more closely. You definitely don't want to try and entice it with food to get it closer. You want that wolf to remain wary," he said.
Wissink said people are also asked to report any wolf sightings to Parks Canada as soon as possible.
"We can live in harmony with our large carnivores here in the park as long as everybody's doing their bit," he said.
-- By Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.
The Canadian Press