Regional Rundown: Encouraging natural bighorn sheep migration

Urban wildlife continues to be a topic for discussion in the valley. In Radium Hot Springs, the focus is on our bighorn sheep herd.

Urban wildlife continues to be a topic for discussion in the valley. In Radium Hot Springs, the focus is on our bighorn sheep herd. This herd is migratory, spending most of the summer and fall in Kootenay National Park at high elevation habitats. In recent years, approximately 30 to 40 sheep have not migrated and have spent the whole year in our village. In 2014, at least one ewe delivered her lamb in town.

This loss of migratory behaviour raises conservation concerns for biologists, including the potential for increased disease transmission, damage to low elevation habitats by overgrazing, ingestion of non-native plant species and pesticides, and motor vehicle collisions.

In November 2013, the Village conducted a Wildlife Safety Survey in order to get an idea of where our residents stood on issues surrounding the sheep and deer in the community. We had 502 responses, which came to a 29 per cent rate of return. Thirty-two percent of respondents were concerned about deer aggression, while only 25 per cent were concerned about sheep aggression. Larger percentages had personally experienced damage to gardens and property, which is attributable to both sheep and deer. Of course, there are much higher numbers of sheep! Approximately one quarter of the respondents were permanent residents, while three quarters were part-time residents. Permanent residents were more likely to be “very concerned” about aggressive deer. Other responses tended to be more balanced.

To address some of the concerns, we have secured funding to work with Kootenay National Park biologists to herd the sheep into the park before they start lambing in order to attempt to restore normal migratory patterns. We are also planning more sidewalk and street sweeping on the streets that the sheep spend more time on.

This will be a reactive policy based on reports from staff and public and availability of staff and equipment.

Parks Canada continues work to restore habitat areas with the hopes of encouraging the sheep herd to stay in the national park as opposed to coming down into the village.

While the Village will continue to monitor incidents related to the deer, it has been determined that the mule deer population as a whole is not considered a problem at this time. However, there are one or two does that are being monitored for atypical, aggressive behaviour and may have to be dealt with by Fish and Wildlife in order

to protect residents, visitors and their pets.

Clara Reinhardt is the mayor of the Village of Radium Hot Springs and a Regional District of East Kootenay director for the Columbia Valley.