Illegal bull elk harvest was down in the East Kootenay over 30 per cent in 2022, compared to the previous year, in accordance with Conservation Officer reports. (Larry Tooze photo)

2022 Hunting Season and Wildlife Review

By FJ Hurtak

The 2022 Hunting season in the East Kootenay saw unseasonably warm temperatures all the way into late October this past year.

Smoke from lingering wildfires in some areas plus prescribed burns, created conditions for hunters that were less than desirable at times for all species.

Rainfall totals for September and October were 10.7 mm in September and 13mm in October in Cranbrook and region. Combined, that number is approximately half of what is considered normal for that time of year.

Snow and cooler weather finally came in the first week of November, but despite the conditions, overall hunter harvest levels certainly appear to fall within the five-year average range.

The butcher shops I checked with reflected that and the sporting goods stores in our area had another very busy season. My taxidermist contact Phil Giesbrecht of Cranbrook said in his shop, submissions were slightly down compared to 2021, but still good. The exception was stone sheep, which was very strong this year — in his shop anyway.

On December 8, I was invited to cover a meeting of the British Columbia Backcountry Hunters and Anglers where their guest speaker was Jim Melenka, the East Kootenay Zone Sergeant for the Conservation Officer Service. Melenka spent close to two hours fielding questions and speaking about hunting and fishing trends, gave an update on illegal bull elk harvest, first impressions of LEH for bighorn sheep, non- compliance issues, compulsory reporting issues and much more. I thought he did an admirable job of sorting through all of the relevant issues and promoting the good work the Conservation Officer Service is doing to protect our wildlife and fisheries.

Here are just a few of his observations from that meeting in no relative order of importance.

A..This was the first year Bighorn rams were on LEH and there were no illegal rams (short of full curl regulations) killed this year.

B. In terms of hunter numbers the Trench experienced another very busy year but for unknown reasons, hunter numbers in the Elk Valley appeared to be down in 2022.

C. Human/Grizzly bear encounters were down to just a handful this year compared to a high of 19 just a few years ago.

D.Poaching is a bigger problem in the East Kootenay than most people realize. The public was encouraged to report any suspicious activity they may observe by calling 1 877 952 7277 the RAPP line.

E. River fishing compliance checks were pretty close to 100 per cent favourable, while ice fishing checks showed some non-compliance at times to the regulations in effect.

F. Submissions of deer heads for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in required zones was down this past year. The importance of submitting a head was emphasized as CWD is now in several provinces and states. For out of province animals being transported into B.C., a “meat only”regulation has been introduced, that allows no bones, except for skullcap and antlers.

G. On the average, illegal elk kills (five points or less) are by hunters who have been hunting for more than five years but range anywhere from 16-82 years of age. Most illegal bulls shot were young bulls. One was a 2×2. And late in the season a bull was shot because the hunter thought it was a whitetail buck. In 2021 there were 58 illegal kills recorded and slightly under 40 reported this year — these elk are just the ones, of course, that have been documented but it’s natural to assume that there are more that are never found.

It was a very informative meeting, to say the least, and in this article I’ve only highlighted some of the things that were discussed, but kudos to Jim and the rest of the COs for the job they do protecting our resource. There are so few of them to cover such a large area I don’t know how they manage to do it quite frankly. Keep up the good work gang.

“Transmission”—The award winning Documentary.

On December 9 I attended a private showing of the documentary “Transmission” out at Fort Steele.

This film focuses on efforts by Dr. Helen Schwantje around disease mitigation to promote both healthy domestic and wild sheep populations. The event was organized by Jenn Bowes, a sheep producer from Brisco. She first had her flock tested in 2019 and had a positive test rate of 48 per cent. Within one year (delays related to COVID-19) the transmission rate had increased to 78 per cent. With different mitigation measures being employed they have seen obvious improvements in lamb growth rates, wool quality, and general temperament of the flock.

After the film was over, Dennis Walker from 2dayFM and I did a joint interview with Jenn Bowes which I think you will find interesting. Here is an edited version.

Q: What would you like to see occur as a result of this documentary film?

A: We really want to see a collaboration between conservation groups and agriculture. When we first started this program it seemed there was a division between conservation groups and farmers but the more I’ve been working with sheep producers it is really not the case. There is a real willingness to work together to help save wildlife populations.

Q: Jenn, why do you think it’s important that every member of the general public takes the time to see this film when they get an opportunity?

A: I believe the public needs to be aware of the issues in order to care about it. A lot of people don’t know what is involved here and that there is a potential to lose our Bighorn Sheep populations. I don’t think many people know that COULD happen. We are so close to that reality, and as a farmer, to think that I could be responsible for a major die-off of wild sheep … well, that is simply not an option for me. If I can help influence other farmers to think in a similar way, that would be great.

Q: Okay, so what kind of response then have you received so far from domestic producers?

A: At first, people were a little bit cautious. They were worried about having fingers pointed at them which is a reality at times, and they were worried that it may impact them financially as well. Once those barriers were removed and they saw a collaborative approach happening and that the cost of testing their flocks was covered they were overwhelmingly on board.

Q: How do they access the test kits?

A: All they need to do is contact me (250-219-9443) or (Jeremy Ayotte at 250-804-3513 ) and we will arrange a time to come out to do the testing.

Q: How quickly then would they get results back after their flocks have been tested?

A: About three to four weeks.

Q:Where did the funding come from to make this film?

A: When we first started working with Dr. Helen Schwantje, the primary support was from the Sheep Separation Program and the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. With the program I have started since then, we have also received funding through the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, and the Ministry of Agriculture. The film also received funding from the Habitat Conservation Trust fund. WSSBC was one of the funding agents as well as I mentioned.

Dennis also got some quick comments from Gordon Burns who was in attendance. Gordie is a director with the Kootenay Livestock Association and Chair of the Land Stewardship Committee..These were his comments.

“I’m so impressed that Agriculture and the Wild Sheep Society are working together on a problem that has been an issue for decades in the Kootenays. The transparency of the folks from Brisco and their commitment to solve the problem rather than turning a blind eye is a very positive thing. It’s a phenomenal film — it captures the issues and the history of wild sheep and shows the dedication of the Wild Sheep Society and how agriculture producers have stepped up to address the problem directly.”

For members of the public who would like to see the trailer for the film you can go to Movifree.org. The film itself will be available for public viewing when it finishes its run with the Banff film festival. That’s expected to be in later 2023.

“Mr. Bob”passes away in October/2022

The wildlife world in the Kootenays suffered another major blow just a few months ago when Bob Jamieson died. That is three wildlife champions in less than a years time who have gone far too soon — Carmen Purdy and Ray Demarchi in 2021 and Bob Jamieson this past October.

I knew Bob from a professional standpoint and did many interviews with him over the years for both radio and print media outlets. He had a deep knowledge of our region and the wildlife that lives within it. To me he was the true definition of a “mountain man.”

His long time friend and fellow wildlife advocate Bill Hanlon from the Elk Valley summed it up best to describe Bob and what he meant to this region.

“I worked with Bob on numerous conservation initiatives in the East Kootenay dating back to the early ’90s. We shared many backcountry campfires together which Bob viewed as the best place to share stories. And Bob was a story teller, relating colourful tales of his exploits as a big game outfitter, game warden in Africa, conservation warrior, rancher and ecologist.

“I consider Bob a true character in the fabric of what defines the East Kootenay’s wilderness and wildlife and what makes it so special. Bob was a tireless advocate for wilderness and a true collaborator in reaching across the floor to create allies in the fight for wildlife. When it comes to the who’s who of conservation history in the East Kootenay Bob will be remembered along side other major personalities, who left their legacy in the wildlife and character of the East Kootenay such as Carmen Purdy and Ray Demarchi.”

Well said, Bill. We will give the last words to Bob himself on this somber subject. He said “I have pretty much done everything I ever wanted to do, from my time in Africa, to skiing all over the world, to hunting the North, rafting wild rivers in many places, to loving some pretty amazing women — it has been a damn good ride.”

For those interested in learning more about Bob’s incredible life you can visit Bobjamieson.ca.

Kootenay East MLA Continues work on Private Members Wildlife Bill

Recently, I had a chance to corner Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka to get some comments on a bill he put forward last spring.

Thanks F.J. It has been an interesting year for wildlife right across the province with some debatable regulation changes concerning LEH. Once again, as a friend of mine put it, “The lazy lever of regulation is all government has to manage our wildlife population declines.” Bighorn sheep were put on LEH, last year, which brings me to what needs to be said.

I think a bright spot this year is a bill I put forward in the legislature last spring-Wildlife Amendment Act , No. 2(private members bill M211)

This bill is what a lot of my constituents have been asking for and a reflection of what I have been hearing over the past six years. This bill if passed, will bring forward an independent funding model for wildlife which is arms length from government and will dedicate 100 % of all fees, licences, and revenue back into wildlife and habitat so we can put wildlife first. This has never been done before in this province and it’s those that appreciate the BC land base and wildlife in particular that are demanding something like this now. It all starts with new legislation.

This will make up one pillar of our goal to properly manage one of our treasured natural resources. The 4 pillars are:

1. Dedicated and independent funding for wildlife.

2. Up to date data and mapping regarding wildlife and habitat

3. Local, regional and First Nation input to make science-based decisions.

4. Legislation which solidifies putting wildlife first and making it a priority in the province of B.C.

I have spoken to many stakeholders, groups and organizations across the province and have been supported by them all. First Nations will weigh in their voice at the government level.

I should say we have really only one hurdle to get this done and it starts and ends with YOUthe reader. I have a goal to collect 100,000 signatures by March 31,2023. But I need your help. Please go to my website at www.tomshypitka.ca and click on the wildlife petition page, print the pdf, and get five signatures from people you know, take a picture with your phone and email it back to me at tom.shypitka.mla@leg.bc.ca. Please spread the message, and I have updates as well on my Facebook page.

If every club, hunter, recreationist, and land user signs this petition, we can make history in this province. I’m Convinced that WE can get this done, and want to thank you all for any support you can give.

BCBCHA—In Action for Wildlife

One of the most active groups in our region over the past number of years has been the BC Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. I caught up to the Chair of the BC Chapter, Al Duffy, and asked him what they have been working on this past year. He said:

“We have been an active participant in the Fish Wildlife Habitat Coalition, which is a coalition of very diverse stakeholders. Together we have been effective in getting our message to government, and pushing for for meaningful changes in legislation that will improve conditions for fish and wildlife and the habitat that supports them. There are over 26 organizations in this coalition, all coming together on the common ground-recognizing the value of wildlife and the need for a paradigm shift in the province in order to reverse the downward trends of our wildlife populations.

“Also the BCBCHA was granted a position on the provincial Hunting Trapping Advisory team (PHTAT). We are honoured to work with the other stakeholder groups on this panel and advocating for sound wildlife management decisions.

“We have also gained positions on several regional wildlife harvest advisory committees throughout the province. That includes the Kootenay, Skeena, and Vancouver Island regions.

“As usual, in this past year, BHA engaged and responded to many issues throughout the province. This response involves going direct to government with concerns and educating our members on these issues.

“We also continue to actively participate in the Together for Wildlife process. In addition, BCBHA, participated in a summit in November hosted by the Wild Sheep Society of BC. This multi-day event focused specifically on action to improve sheep populations across the province.

“In the Kootenays there were specific issues that kept us very busy. Engaging with government regarding the Bighorn Sheep LEH decision was one of the major efforts earlier in the year. We continue to engage with the Ministry on wildlife and habitat issues and meet with our MLA on a regular basis.

“BCBHA representatives recently met with other stakeholders and government to discuss wildlife and habitat priorities and the development of a regional wildlife advisory committee. The province has committed to developing these regional tables as part of the Together for Wildlife Strategy which I’ve already related to. The meeting went very well and we are optimistic this will eventually lead to some positive changes.

“And finally, on a National level, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is working on gaining charitable status which will help with the expansion plans we have in place.”

Thanks for the update Al. It has been another busy year for all concerned when it comes to wildlife, and I think it’s a credit to the wildlife resource itself, and how important it is to people right across the province for the type of interest it has been generating. Government in general moves slow, but eventually if we all diligently persist, we will finally initiate the changes which need to happen.

Before I wrap up I want to thank Rick and the staff at Rick’s Meats in Cranbrook for skinning and cutting up my whitetail buck this year. They were soooo busy as usual near the end of the season they couldn’t really take anymore animals in, let alone hang one up and skin it . As I was going to recover my buck this year, I slipped on a rock and sprained my right wrist when I hit the ground. Fortunately, I had a roll of hockey tape with me and taped up my wrist, but I had to eviscerate the animal with my left hand. Seeing I’m right-handed that was difficult and I did a terrible job but under the circumstances I did the best I could. Then, I had to drag it out in one piece, in the dark, using only one arm because there was no way I could quarter it or skin it out. Getting it into my truck was a bit of a nightmare as well but I got back home around 11 p.m. that night. The wife had a morning search party already organized for me. I had sent her a text in the afternoon telling her that I would be awhile but didn’t realize the text was not delivered, because for whatever reason, there was no service at the time..Ah, the trials and tribulations of a hunter. The good news is, that in the ensuing days after the hunt, I learned how to brush my teeth with both my left hand and my right. Anyways everyone, have a very happy and prosperous New Year in 2023. Tight lines and straight shooting! See you in the field.

F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books “Elk Hunting in the Kootenays” and “Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays.” All profit from the books went to land for wildlife and habitat restoration here in the Kootenay region.