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Posted: June 13, 2018

Bighorn are being managed by chance not by design

Letter to the Editor

The East Kootenay Wildlife Association is disappointed with the government’s plan to manage the declining Bull River Bighorn Sheep herd.

The herd has declined from 120 animals in 2012 to 48 animals in 2018. The EKWA, along with other conservation groups and concerned citizens, has been demanding that action be taken to halt the decline and for government to take action to rebuild the Bull River sheep herd.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNROD) hosted an open house meeting in Cranbrook to talk about the status of the Bull River Bighorn Sheep herd and to unveil their action plan to recover the herd. In the meeting, EKWA learned that the Bull River bighorns are not infected with the fatal Movi bacteria that can be contracted from infected domestic sheep even though the East Kootenay region has the highest incidence of the deadly bacteria in domestic sheep in the province.

But the province doesn’t have any answers as to exactly why the Bull River sheep herd, or other wild sheep herds in the East Kootenay, is declining so fast. Based on the province’s information, 70% of all the bighorn sheep herds in the East Kootenay have fewer than 75 individual sheep left in them.

The public meeting held in Cranbrook was scheduled earlier this spring but it was cancelled due to the venue being too small for the high number of people who were planning to attend.

By rescheduling the meeting EKWA was hopeful the government would be tabling a science-based Bighorn Sheep recovery plan for the East Kootenay and announcing significant multi-year funding for the conservation initiative. But this never happened.

Instead, attendees at the meeting heard government biologists state that they “have no answers.” There is some invasive weed control ongoing at the Bull River, a few wild sheep have been fitted with GPS collars and some blood and hair samples were taken from several sheep last winter for testing. But there was no big picture plan. No plan to determine why lamb survival is so low and no plan to determine if predation is abnormally severe.

There was no discussion about the impact domestic cattle grazing on the Bull River sheep’s winter range is having on the survival of the sheep herd or whether grazing should be suspended while the province tries to recover the herd to former levels.

Overall, EKWA representatives who attended the meeting were disappointed there is no recovery plan for Bighorn Sheep and that there is no dedicated funding to keep them from becoming endangered species like the Mountain Caribou.

There were no population objectives established for the Bull River herd or any other sheep herd in the region, no research planned to fill in information gaps and no specific management actions that address known causes of the sheep declines. EKWA feel Bighorn Sheep are being managed by chance not by design.

With the province currently asking the public for input on new Endangered Species legislation and a new wildlife and conservation framework for the province, EKWA urges citizens to write the government and at least express that both these new government initiatives include legal provisions to keep wildlife in British Columbia from becoming endangered species.

Wildlife management needs to be more that simply watching wildlife disappear. B.C. needs legislation with proactive measures to keep wildlife abundant on the land and to conserve biodiversity.

East Kootenay Wildlife Association

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