The story and pictures I am sending you are a backdrop to my family’s strong request that the Granby California Bighorn Sheep harvest permits be reduced from eight to six and eventually five!
The rationale for reducing the harvest permits is twofold. A harvest of eight bighorn rams will quickly result in virtually no ram living longer than 6 ½ years.
The strategic argument for reducing harvest permits is our province’s long history of always finding and supporting a hollow vacant scientific argument that validates taking more. The sorry state of whitetail, blacktail and mule deer populations underscores my point.
The Gilpin Grasslands, the home of the bighorns is a small range that touches 7 watersheds. The area has a high road density.
It is true to-day that the California Bighorn Rams on Gilpin represent the highest percent of rams per population in the province. It is also true that California Bighorn Sheep are a heartbreak animal that is highly vulnerable to domestic livestock diseases, especially when they come in contact with domestic goats and domestic sheep.
In the mid nineties the Pass Creek bighorns contacted a pneumonia bug that resulted in a 65-70% population die-off. Although we tried to prevent contact with rancher, Don McDonald’s domestic sheep we obviously failed. Our small fencing initiative was no match for the bitterness and anger of a few ranchers who opposed the February 1984 Pass Creek California bighorn transplant.
Prior to the pneumonia outbreak approximately 15 older rams contacted foot rot and died over a five year period. The provincial lab in Abbotsford determined that the foot rot was the result of bighorns coming in contact with the two bacteria that cause the problem in domestic cows.
The history of the Gilpin Grassland California Bighorn Sheep transplant, March 1985 (12) and January 1986 (13) is a story that showcased how self serving and corrupt the Overton/Moody (bookend watersheds of Gilpin) Co-ordinated Resource Management Plan process was. The behavior of range staff and ranchers during the February 1984 Pass Creek bighorn transplant made it clear there would be no transparency or accountability. They lost one fight and had no intention of losing another.
The last bighorn sheep transplant meeting February 27, 1985 was tense but cordial. District and Regional Agrologists; Jim Maxwell and Jack King failed to sell their argument. Their game was done when Social Credit MLA/Cabinet Minister, Jim Hewitt described the 15 reasons presented to deny the transplant as silly. “Barry you only have one problem, Highway #3.”
It is hardly surprising that Agrologists Jim Maxwell and Jack King put on a dismal performance, after all they both were the heart and soul of the November 1976 Overton/Moody Co-ordinated Resource Management Plan that totally discounted the major reason the Social Credit Government purchased the 1470 acre Boothman Ranch.
Early afternoon of the February 27, 1985 meeting Ace Elkink, the BC Cattlemen’s representative asked Zeke Withler, the Regional Wildlife Manager; “Are the sheep coming to Grand Forks in spite of opposition from ranchers”? A look of dismay and shock silenced the meeting when Zeke said yes. Gordon Nichols, the District Manager confirmed the bighorns were coming to Grand Forks. Zeke had a sheepish look on his face as he knew the Ministry of Environment’s credibility was on the line.
MOF District Manager, Gord Nichols was red faced when he confirmed the bighorns were coming to Grand Forks and was well down the road in getting even. The last of the 18 introductions was made by Gord when he introduced District Agrologist, Jim Maxwell “Jim is here to-day to give me advice should I ask him but he will not answer questions from the table”.
That was the end of Jim’s career in Grand Forks. Needless to say Gord Nichol’s introduction and Zeke Withler’s answer to Ace Elkink never appeared in the minutes.
In a conversation October, 1984 Jim Hewitt made it clear that Highway #3 was a problem. Subsequently Wayne Rieberger and I signed a contract drafted by lawyer, Dan Geronazzo that committed us to build one mile of physical barrier fencing. The contract had no standing in law but did get Jim’s endorsement of the bighorn transplant. Fencing Highway #3 dominated the meeting after Zeke Withler’s proclamation that the bighorns were coming to Grand Forks.
The support for and against the transplant made it very clear that the credibility of the Fish & Wildlife Branch was on the line in spite of a political decision. Failure to keep bighorns off Highway #3 would challenge future wildlife transplant initiatives, a point guaranteed to be made by the agriculture sector.
The case for the bighorn transplant was made by Provincial Government Biologist, Bob Lincoln and was subsequently endorsed by stakeholders: increased interest in wildlife viewing, provide a new but small hunting opportunity and most importantly create another buffer to the inevitable disease that plagues California Bighorn Sheep, a Blue Listed Species (threatened).
The names that supported the transplant guaranteed I would honor my commitment: Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce, Provincial Chamber of Commerce, Grand Forks City Council, Area C and D of the Regional District of Kootenay/Boundary (rural Grand Forks and Christina Lake), Sierra Club, Local and provincial Naturalists, Hotels, Motels and Campgrounds of BC and a large petition of support from the community.
The spirited opposition also guaranteed,that one mile of fencing would only be a tepid start to a much longer journey: MOF District and Regional Agrologists, Grand Forks Stockbreeders Association, BC Cattlemen’s Association, British Columbia Institute of Agrologists, Advance Orchard, BC Wildlife Federation (Until the 11th hour) and landowners south of the highway.
The one mile commitment was fenced by a successful raffle that netted $1500.00. The second raffle broke even and made it clear there was only one way to raise the money to build the fence that would keep the bighorns off Highway #3; a permit that allowed me to sell a bighorn sheep hunt to a non-resident hunter.
It was a sweet moment, quickly forgotten when the magnitude of building a mile of wildlife fence in rocky ground dominated the conversation. Twelve foot treated posts in the ground 44” is a daunting task when your fence is adjacent to a rock quarry. It wasn’t much of a fence by to-day’s standard but we made our one mile commitment.
The political reality made it very clear that the agriculture sector would look for every opportunity to discredit the project, especially those at the tip of the triangle who refused to accept no.
As expected it was a painful journey to get BC Wildlife Federation support for a permit but eventually we found a way to work together.
End of story, no just the end of an abbreviated chapter in a much longer story, after all the bighorn sheep file is 3” thick, but now we are on the highway right of way building a fence and no one is going to stop us!
We lost the permit 10 years ago which means to-day we are reimbursed for material (wire & posts) but are on the hook for paying contractors, primarily backhoe operator.
A few of us have a good rapport with the community and as a result we get phone calls when the bighorns are on the highway, some problems can be fixed but not all!
Why has a one mile commitment become a 33 year journey? The simple answer- respect for wildlife is non-existent; agreements are quickly lost to hollow vacant voices who want more!
Notwithstanding there is going to be a winter die off of ungulates thanks to a brutal winter that does not want to stop. The 2018 Budget Speech does present a small ray of hope for the future of the province’s wildlife resource:
“And 14 million dollars over three years will help develop and implement a revitalized BC wildlife management initiative to better protect wildlife through conservation, biodiversity and habitat protection”.
I will quickly send you the Sucker Punch Story, an interesting read for anyone wanting an education on how our bureaucracy works when the blood is up.
Barry Brandow Sr.