West Kootenay Advertiser
Trail native Rob Frew fondly recalls a childhood spent fishing the mighty Columbia River and hiking the area’s unbroken terrain with binoculars in hand, eager to spot deer and other noble creatures of the forest.
But over the years, urban creep into the area’s natural surroundings has become such a black cloud that the retired Senior Environmental Coordinator is determined to stop, look around and conserve – beginning with Lower Columbia River corridor.
“It’s never just one thing that affects wildlife, it’s a combination of factors,” says Frew. “I’ve seen such a huge change especially living in the Columbia Gardens area since 1997. This was like ‘Dogpatch’, a quiet little corner where the deer and elk could move about,” he explained. “But since the beginning of this century it’s become urban sprawl. I’m not against progress, but to me it isn’t always about covering as much ground as you can. I’m ‘pro’ people having jobs and finding new businesses, but let’s try to do that with as small a footprint as we can.”
That philosophy and passion for the West Kootenay natural environment is what Frew and Alphonse Mallette, members of the Trail Wildlife Association, recently brought before East End Services politicians in a bid for support to carry out the Lower Columbia River Planning and Inventory project.
“Our motivation is the large decrease in the local mule deer population,” said Frew. “When I was younger there was a lot of mule deer, and less of the white tail,” he noted. “What’s probably happened is that valley has changed so much over the years, and mule deer have specific habitat requirements, that those changes impact wildlife that has (historically) passed through.”
The study will focus on surveying lands adjacent to the Columbia River corridor, the surrounding benchlands, and the drainage basins of the major tributary creeks.
“Again, since the beginning of the century, recreational vehicles, which are like the plague to me, and logging roads cut into areas that no one had access to before, has so many people in places they’ve never been.
“They don’t realize that all that activity alienates that land, and the wildlife doesn’t use it anymore.”
The group’s first goal is to partner with high school and college students for help to conduct an inventory of wildlife habitat in the 80 kilometre stretch of the Columbia River corridor between Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar through Trail and south to the mouth of Onion Creek, near Northport, Wash.
Selkirk College student Diane Dreger is on board, dedicating hours to help streamline both historical and recent data that has already been documented by other entities in the region.
Besides Dreger, Frew and Mallette will partner with J.L. Crowe Secondary School students for the actual wildlife count, in addition to future projects that could enhance natural habitat, such as planting, thinning or burning impacted lands.
After the inventory count, comes the nitty gritty of identifying the most important corridors for wildlife to move freely between summer and winter range. Following the study, the plan includes more boots-to-the-ground action with restoration and conservation of the critical pathways.
While the project is still in the infancy stage, Frew explained the ultimate goal is to work with Kootenay Conservation and other recognized conservancies to set aside areas for conservation and to identify and protect species-at-risk.
The first step, he maintains, is elevating the project’s profile within Lower Columbia communities.
“We are trying to get awareness from the politicians, and at the East End Services, they thought what we are doing was really great,” he said. “People need to know that there is only room for so many things in this valley. Once we destroy a chunk of land, it’s gone for conservation.”
The mule deer is indigenous to western North America, and are very distinctive with a large white rump patch, a black-tipped tail, and large ears that are about two-thirds the length of the head.
In the interior, the mule deer’s traditional winter ranges consist of shrublands in the dry forest zone and on steep south and west-facing sites with broken terrain. They often remain at high elevations until December, then migrate to lower ranges with shallower snow. In summer, they usually leave the dry, valley-side ranges and move to higher, wetter elevations.
The mule deer’s key winter foods include shrubs like big sagebrush, pasture sage, and bitterbrush, as well as the foliage of Douglas-fir trees and a variety of grasses and herbs. In spring and summer, mule
deer prefer various grasses, along with herbs like balsamroot and clover, and leaves of shrub varietals.