SHEEP SHIFT  The Village of Radium wants to encourage its resident bighorn sheep to migrate out of the community back into the mountains. Photo submitted

SHEEP SHIFT The Village of Radium wants to encourage its resident bighorn sheep to migrate out of the community back into the mountains. Photo submitted

The bighorn sheep may begin to shift their migratory direction away from Radium and back into the elements with some help.

The Village of Radium Hot Springs recently received a $10,000 grant from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) to develop a strategy to encourage bighorn sheep migration outside of the community to reinforce spring migratory behaviour of bighorn sheep a project that has been underway since earlier this year.

The HCTF funding will be used exclusively for development of a management strategy, which will discuss options, including translocation as an alternative to aversive conditioning, said Mark Read, Village of Radium Hot Springs chief administrative officer. The Border Collie pilot portion of the project is being undertaken with Columbia Basin Trust funding.

The action to research migration and push the bighorn sheep back into the mountains with Border Collies was developed when some of the bighorn sheep chose to avoid migrating or returned to winter ranges such as golf courses and lawns within the Village of Radium. It is suspected these options may have been adopted by the bighorn sheep to avoid predators.

But ultimately the shift has caused some concerns around the village.

The behaviour of remaining on low elevation winter ranges all year is unnatural and unhealthy, Mr. Read said. The loss of migratory behaviour raises conservation and safety concerns for biologists and local residents.

It can lead to increased disease transmission potential, increased damage to low elevation habitats by overgrazing, increased vehicle collisions and increased potential for human conflicts. It is important to keep bighorn sheep as wild as possible so that they do not lose their migratory knowledge and behaviour.

While the goal of the project depends on developing a strategy to correct the path of bighorn sheep migration, Mr. Read anticipates the contracted biologist will have a plan in place for council to review by the end of summer.

It is possible that we will explore capturing and moving non-migrating bighorn sheep into natural high elevation summer ranges. We would identify the summer ranges by using data obtained by Parks Canada.

This type of activity would likely involve GPS radio-collars to monitor capture/transport mortality and helicopter transport. Normally, we only translocate bighorn sheep if the Radium herd begins to exceed a carrying capacity of approximately 200 animals; these animals would then be relocated to a declining herd many kilometres from their original home ranges, said Mr. Read. To date, estimates of the Radium herd range from 130 to 165. The Ministry has found that translocations outside of home ranges are only somewhat successful and they have not translocated bighorn sheep within original home ranges.