Editorial: Declining ungulate populations need new approach

Declining moose numbers have spurred the B.C. government into action

Declining moose numbers have spurred the B.C. government into action, resulting in a moose management strategy to prevent the population from shrinking further. But as Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club president Rick Hoar points out, it’s not just moose that are disappearing. The consensus is elk and white tail deer numbers are down as well. Tie these appraisals into the dire situation facing mountain caribou, of which the southern and central mountain subpopulations are now classified as endangered, and it’s clear a threshold has been reached.

According to the local rod and gun club president, the province’s moose management strategy won’t be enough to address the problem because it doesn’t take into account increased predation, which he and many in the hunting community consider a causal factor in the moose population decline. In the case of the caribou crisis, a controversial government-sanctioned wolf cull has been deemed necessary in order to keep the remaining caribou alive.

But wild predators are simply taking advantage of human-caused conditions. Kimberley-based biologist Dave Quinn, who was recently in Invermere to give a special presentation about the Purcell Mountains and his work in caribou conservation, explained how loss of habitat (i.e. logging and development) and increased predation are intricately linked. Once camouflaged by large tracts of forests that protected them from predators, ungulates are now easy targets in areas where cutblocks and roads have opened up the line of sight between predator and prey, plus they fragment the large areas wildlife require to roam and migrate.

Hunting is also having an impact. Then add motorized backcountry recreation into the mix (i.e. snowmobiling), which disturbs the animals, depleting their energy reserves as they struggle to survive in winter conditions, and it’s simply logical that to preserve B.C.’s ungulate populations, a cumulative impact study that puts habitat protection as a top priority has to create the foundation for a conservation-based approach.

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