Sheep study helps determine their habitat in Kicking Horse Canyon

Golden has a relatively small sheep population, and groups are coming together to study them and ensure they continue to thrive in the Kicking Horse Canyon.

The herd population is around 14 to 16 ewe and rams, which reside in the area slated for major highway twinning construction in the Kicking Horse Canyon.

The Golden District Rod and Gun Club, along with Conservation Officer Services, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and the Wild Sheep Society of BC have come together to conduct a study on the health, habits, and habitats of the herd.

Phase one is already underway, with two sheep collared, and checked by a veterinarian. The completion of the first two phases will see a total of five sheep collared to track their movements. The first two collared sheep were ewes, and Golden District Rod and Gun Club vice president Chad Parent says the next three collared will be rams to ensure they see a broad scope of movements and patterns. At different times of the year, rams will veer away from the herd and take a different path. While the sheep were tranquilized, B.C. government wildlife veterinarian Helen Schwantje would take saliva and stool samples, as well as check the sheep’s vitals, to get a good picture of the health of the herd.

The whole procedure for each sheep takes only 20 minutes. Then, conservation officers give the tranquilized animal another shot that wakes them up and sends them on their way to join the herd.

“Not only are we collaring, we’re checking on the health of the herd as well,” Parent said.

The idea for this study began as a concern for the sheep’s population during highway construction.

“We wanted to monitor the sheep’s movement pre, during, and post construction,” Parent said.

The four-year project will see if the habits of the herd change, and can help the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure set up a construction schedule that is least intrusive to the herd.

The herd in Golden is small, and not suitable for hunting, Parent said.

“The herd in the canyon will never be a huntable herd,” conservation officer Alex Desjardins said.

In order for a herd to be huntable, they need to have around 75 sheep in the herd or more. The idea to collar and study the herd is a way to protect it.

“They’re right on the cusp of not being a sustainable herd anymore,” Parent said. “The herd is on a decline, and we would like to prevent the construction project from being the end of the herd.”

The four-year-long project will include studying the sheep population, habitat enhancement, and more.

With the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure connecting the canyon with bridges, there will be enough room for the sheep to travel under the roadway, instead of needing to cross the busy highway, Parent added.

“They are definitely aware that it is a sensitive habitat,” Parent said, adding that other wildlife also live in the canyon, like bats and birds. “We have a vested interest in our sheep… The Rod and Gun Club are kind of like the keepers of our sheep.”

The sheep frequent the side of the highway, and often tourists will stop to take photos of them. By the end of May, some people might notice the five sheep with collars.

Stopping along the stretch of highway that winds through the canyon can be dangerous to motorists, and it can also endanger the sheep as well.

“It can also lead to habituation for the sheep, which is not the best thing,” Desjardins said.

When the highway is realigned, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has promised the sheep will be able to cross the highway safely.

“They are wild, and it’s better that they stay wild,” Parent said.

The Golden District Rod and Gun Club is part of many programs that help sustain wildlife and sensitive ecosystems, like the sheep study, and a habitat restoration project in the Moberly Marsh, just west of Golden.

To find out more about the organization, go to www.goldenrodandgun.com.

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