An important wildlife symposium coming up in Cranbrook aims to present a sketch of the wildlife population crisis in BC and the East Kootenay, and a way forward to stopping the plunge of ungulate populations.
The Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund is sponsoring a Big Game Management symposium which will take place at Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre, to address wildlife population decline and wildlife management moving forward.
Carmen Purdy has a long history of wildlife involvement — hunting and trapping since boyhood, helping found the Wildlife Heritage Fund, and serving on the board of the B.C. Nature Conservancy for more than a quarter century. He has seen profound changes in the state of wildlife in the region over time, in particular the decline of elk, moose, deer and other ungulate populations.
“[The decline is the result] of a combination of a number of things,” Purdy said. “But the tipping point was the introduction of wolves into Kootenay National Park in 1981. There are lots of other things that are involved, but predation is the main one, I think.”
Purdy cites former local regional Wildlife Manager Ray Demarchi, who worked in the region starting in the 1960s.
“He got the elk population from fairly low numbers to about 35,000. 1985 was about the peak, and then they began to go down from there.
“So we can get those numbers back. We know how to raise them. We also know how to raise predators. The predator numbers are high, and the ungulate numbers are low. And the reason ungulate numbers are low isn’t because we’re shooting them — we only took about 300 last year. In 1985 we took about 1,750 bulls. And hunter numbers are down. In 1983 we had 180,000 hunters in the province. We have less than 100,000 now.
“It’s not because they’re over-hunted, it’s because they’re under-managed.”
As reported in Wednesday’s Townsman, the Symposium of April 13 is hosting a line-up of experts on wildlife issues from around North America, who will discuss what factors are driving the trend and what can be done to help reverse it. Purdy said the speakers between them represent 250 years of wildlife experience and expertise across North America.
[See who the speakers are here]
“This is an education thing more than anything else. We’re going to listen to the best biologists in western North America speak about wildlife management and how we can turn things around.”
“We’re not trying to incite anything,” said Bill Bennett, former Kootenay East MLA. “We’re not trying to bash government. We’re trying to get at the truth here.”
He said the symposium is open to all viewpoints on the issue.
“It would be nice to see people come who are opposed to grizzly bear hunting. It would be nice to see people come who have questions about cougar hunting — why do we allow big cats to be hunted. It would be nice for people who love wolves to come.”
Bennett added that predator management does not equal an anti-predator policy.
“I love those animals,” he said. “I know how beautiful and majestic they are — the grizzly bears, the wolves, the cougars. They’re beautiful animals, but that’s not the point. We have to manage these populations. It’s not dissimilar to the way domestic animals are managed. If you have too many animals on a piece of habitat, or you’ve got too many predators taking too many prey animals, then you’re out of balance.
“And hunting is one of the main tools wildlife managers have to keep things in balance.”
Bennett reiterated that it’s been proven that ungulate populations can rebound.
“But we can’t leave things to chance. Predator populations grow really fast.”
He added it’s important to understand that humans have been managing wildlife populations for centuries.
“And in the last 100 years, with forestry, road-building, mining and the development of communities we’ve had to become more and more involved in the management of wildlife.”
“The bottom line is that we know how to bring them back,” Purdy said. “It’s a complex management system, but its not hard to do. That includes winter feeding … which helps maintain the populations we have now. Without it we may lose them all. It can happen quicker than we think.
Tickets for the Kootenay Wildlife Symposium, Saturday, April 13, at the Key City Theatre, are $20. Purdy says it’s an unprecedented event, and that education and communication are what it’s all about.
“I want this to be a symposium where people come away from it saying ‘yes, we can turn this around, but there are certain things that have to happen before we can do that.’”