The dwindling elk and moose population in B.C.'s East Kootenay can only be saved by culling predators like wolves, cougars and bears, say a growing number of hunters and biologists.

Elk herds that used to have 1,000 members now have 200, and only produce 15 to 20 calves a year, says wildlife ecologist Bob Jamieson.

Those calves are not surviving to adulthood, due to pressure from predators, he says, and entire herds have already disappeared in some areas.

"We've always said [predators] kill the old and the weak. But the fact is they kill the old and the weak, and very large number of the young," said Jamieson.

Governments and biologists already manage most aspects of the ecosystem, including logging rates and competition for grazing between livestock and wild herds, he said.

Jamieson says researchers are also working to better educate the public on the drastic effect predators like wolves can have on ungulates like elk and moose — and he believes it's time to start managing large predators directly.

"For some reason, historically, we've said well we just don't manage large predators," he said.  "The more recent science is saying we're going to have to manage the whole system."

Wisconsin elk

B.C. biologists say elk and moose populations are struggling in the East Kootenay due to pressure from predators like wolves, cougars, and bears. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Associated Press)

Outcry over culls

Hunters say the elk population in the East Kootenay has been declining for decades.

"You don't see any animals in the backcountry the way you used to. The elk are not even going into their calving grounds the way they used to," said Ken Miller, who has hunted in the Kootenays most of his adult life.

Both Miller and Jamieson are part of a group of hunters and wildlife biologists that are lobbying the provincial government to conduct an official count of ungulates in the East Kootenay.

​Jamieson says outcry over culls aimed at saving populations like B.C.'s mountain caribou are misguided. 

"We're just trying to educate people as to the scale of the problem and try to figure out some way to address it and alter the situation."

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Culling wolves only way to save elk and moose, says biologist.

With files from Bob Keating