The B.C. Government has announced a number of measures to address dwindling elk populations in the East Kootenay. File photo.

Province to tackle declining elk populations across Kootenays

Aerial survey of elk in Rocky Mountain Trench finds populations has more than halved in 10 years

Tightening hunting restrictions and revising timber harvesting standards are among a raft of measures being taken by the province to address rapidly dwindling elk populations in the Kootenays.

The B.C. Government on Thursday announced its plan of attack in response to an aerial survey of Rocky Mountain elk in the Rocky Mountain Trench, which extends from Invermere south to the U.S. border, and is divided into the North Trench and South Trench.

The aerial survey was conducted between January 15 and February 5, 2018, and found numbers had more than halved in 10 years.

According to the 2017/18 Rocky Mountain Trench Elk Inventory, the elk population has dropped from 14,115 in 2007/8 to 6674 in 2017/18, representing a 53 per decline.

The decline has been attributed to intensive cow harvest implemented to reduce conflicts on agricultural land between 2010 and 2012.

“Causes of population declines are not well understood but poor calf recruitment from 2013 to 2017 appears to be a contributing factor,” read the inventory report.

The elk population is currently below the identified population target of 8469-11,292 elk laid out in the previous Regional Elk Management Plan.

In response to the decline, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has taken a number of actions, including:

  • Incorporating the inventory results into an updated Regional Elk Management Plan, which will identify management actions to increase populations;
  • Working with licensees, First Nations and stakeholders to revise standards for timber harvesting on elk winter ranges to ensure sufficient canopy cover is retained;
  • Completing habitat selection analysis of radio-collared elk to better understand winter-habitat use in the Rocky Mountain Trench;
  • Contributing funding to a research project investigating population change and loss of migratory behaviour in the Elk Valley;
  • Closing the September 10-19 spike bull elk general open season (GOS) and the September 1-19 antlerless archery GOS in the agricultural areas of the East Kootenay; and
  • Reducing antlerless cow elk limited entry hunting tags to one tag per zone.

In May, The Free Press reported the preliminary results of an aerial survey of elk in the Southern Trench, from Canal Flats to the U.S. border.

At the time, the East Kootenay Wildlife Association was advocating for a new approach to wildlife management and called on the B.C. Government to increase investment, and go beyond adjusting hunting regulations.

MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka proposed redirecting all revenue raised by hunting licences to wildlife management and habitat restoration, in addition to the current funding model.

More to come.

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