A look back on hunting and wildlife management in the Kootenays

FJ Hurtak reflects on the year past in hunting and wildlife management and looks ahead at some news and notes for 2019

  • Jan. 10, 2019 8:23 a.m.

By F.J. Hurtak

The 2018 hunting season, by all reports was a bit better, in terms of success rates, than the results from the previous year, which had the dubious distinction of being one of the worst hunting seasons in recent memory.

Of course, the terrible wildfire season in 2017 contributed to the dismal results, as the early September bow season was lost, as well as the first week of the rifle season.

So it would make complete sense that the 2018 season would see some improvement because conditions this past year by the fall were fairly normal in the Kootenays, despite another bad wildfire season in the province overall.

The butcher shops I contacted reflected that improvement somewhat, and a conversation with Southern Guide-Outfitter representative David Beranek echoed those sentiments as well from an industry standpoint.

Then came the stark reminder from Beranek that “we are a far cry from where we need to be in the Kootenays and the province. We need to put wildlife first to have a realistic chance at stopping the continuing downward spiral of ungulate numbers.”

It would be very difficult for anyone to argue with that statement, but the good news is, is that much is in the works on several levels, to try and right the ship.

I’ll begin with a short interview I did with Tara Szkorupa, who was until recently our senior wildlife biologist for Kootenay-Boundary. She started a new assignment with the Fish and Wildlife Branch in January of 2018. The position focused on advancing the Ministry’s mandate to improve wildlife management and habitat conservation in B.C.

Q: What does your new position involve?

A: I’m working with the Wildlife and Habitat Branch as a Wildlife Policy Analyst, at a provincial level, but I’m still based out of the Cranbrook office. Patrick Stent has assumed my former position as the Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Kootenay-Boundary Region.The Region is now working on filling Pat’s Wildlife Biologist position, and the vacant Wildlife Biologist position in Nelson.

Q: Let’s get to some specifics then. Where are you at with the Elk Management Plan for our region and the province in general?

A: Staff in the Kootenay-Boundary Region are currently looking for a contractor to lead the development of a regional elk management plan in collaboration with stakeholders and indigenous peoples.This work was put out to tender on BC bid last August. However no bids were actually received during the initial round, and staff are continuing to solicit bids from additional qualified contractors. They hope to start on the plan as soon as possible.

Q: During the Wildlife Management Round table, held in the spring of 2017, there was much discussion on a potential new Wildlife Management Funding model for the province. Can you give us any information on that subject?

A: I’m currently working on the improving Wildlife Management and Habitat Conservation initiative, which is broader than a new funding model, although it will likely be an important component moving forward. Starting last spring we met with over 100 indigenous communities, and over 60 stakeholder groups, and asked everyone to share their ideas on how to improve wildlife and habitat management here in B.C. We also invited the public to tell us their concerns and offer potential solutions through our website. We received over 1,000 comments. The next step is to develop policy ideas to address major challenges in collaboration with stakeholders and indigenous peoples. Meetings and webinars began in December as you know, and will continue in 2019. Although we are focusing on provincial-level discussions first, regional input is critical for success of this initiative, and regional groups and stakeholders will be involved in the future. We also encourage everyone to visit our website to find out what we have heard so far, to learn more about this initiative.

Q: Can you give us the website information.?

A: You bet — Click on engage.gov.bc.ca/wildlifeandhabitat/.

Thanks Tara, we all appreciate the update.

Sheep Management Plan for Kootenay Region in the Works

Bighorn sheep populations in the East Kootenay have suffered some major setbacks in the past few years.

The Bull River herd for one, is in serious trouble. Numbers have dropped by over 50 per cent in recent years (120 animals in 2012-less than 50 in 2018). A study lead by biologist Jeremy Ayotte showed no evidence of disease as a possible contributing factor to the decline.

Habitat decline and predation became a major focus of discussion at a public meeting which was held at the Heritage Inn last year.

In an interview I conducted late last summer with Ministry biologists, they mentioned that their population objectives for the Bull River herd would be to restore numbers to populations of approximately 90-100 bighorn sheep. This was predicated on being able to improve range conditions and also to reducing the risk of potential disease, spread from domestic sheep and goats to bighorn sheep.

These questions and others will be addressed in the regional bighorn sheep management plan.

Again, the work is being done by contract biologist Jeremy Ayotte and Kim Poole, and is expected to be completed in the next few months.

Odds and Ends

• Back Country Hunters and Anglers hire Western Canada Coordinator

Aliah Knopff has been hired as BHA’s Western Canada Coordinator. A press release from BCBHA,stated that, “Knopff will be promoting western Canadian conservation goals to defend our outdoor heritage, and advance policies that safeguard our wild places for generations that follow us. The primary function of Aliah’s new role will be to support provincial chapters’ policy, increase capacity and work with chapter leaders to identify and advance conservation objectives in Canada.” The release went onto say that BCBHA is planning a Chapter Leader Development Seminar January 18-20 at the Heritage Inn in Cranbrook. This will feature a public event on Saturday evening—a story telling pint night featuring local characters.

Also,The BCHA will be hosting another one of their popular Film Fests which is scheduled for Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre on March 1st. The evening will feature a film from the BHA 2018 Rendezvous and a special presentation of “The Iceman of the Tatshenshini”, by co-discoverer Bill Hanlon. Hanlon was invited to share his presentation and his amazing story of a sheep hunting adventure and discovery. He has made many appearances at conservation events right across western North America with his informative and entertaining presentation.

North American wide membership, including both BC and Alberta chapters is now closing in on 30,000 members. It’s fair to say that their growth in B.C. alone in just a few years, mirrors the meteoric growth of the organization.

Wildlife Management Symposium Proposed for Cranbrook in April

Although details of this are a bit sketchy at the time of this writing, a wildlife symposium is being planned for Cranbrook this spring. The tentative date set by organizers is April 13th. The symposium will feature some of the most respected biologists in North America speaking on past success, our present situation in the Kootenays, and future management options. Watch for more details in the press in the coming weeks.

FJ Hurtak is the author of the books “Elk Hunting in the Kootenays”, and “Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays”. All profits from the books have gone to land for wildlife and to habitat restoration in the Kootenay Region.

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