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Study published on limiting factors of local bighorn sheep

The herd of sheep have been around since the 1980s
The bighorn sheep population in Golden live near the highway and are blue-listed as a species at risk. (Meg Langley photo)

A recent study concerning a herd of bighorn sheep that call the Kicking Horse Canyon home has identified several limiting factors to the population, according to the studies author, Meg Langley, a Golden resident and local biologist.

According to the study, identification of limiting factor can help inform management decisions of the herd, which can help reduce the risks faced by the free-ranging wildlife in the canyon.

Langley says that the major takeaway is that highway mortality is one of the most pressing issues facing the population of sheep in the canyon.

“With the highway being twinned, everyones going to be going a whole lot faster, it’s going to potentially be more of an issue,” said Langley.

“I want to highlight that as a concern. We don’t know how to solve this issue other than encouraging people to slow down.”

Langley says that there’s strong evidence that more signage will encourage people to slow down when travelling through the canyon and has been advocating for more signage along the Trans-Canada Highway.

She also says that with the upcoming highway construction, she’s hoping that it will bring more attention to the herd of sheep that call that stretch of land home.

According to her, bighorn sheep are blue-listed, meaning they are considered a species that is vulnerable in their locale and is of special concern.

The bighorn sheep population in the canyon is unique in that Langley says they probably would not be there if they hadn’t had their feed supplemented over the last 30 years.

According to Langley, bighorn sheep were not native to the area, with records of one or two cropping up throughout the 70s before the herd permanently took up residence by the highway in 1986. She says the herd was originally about 50 strong, but their current numbers are closer to a dozen.

She says in the past, there have been efforts to move the herd to a safer location that is more suitable to the sheep, stating that the canyon is not a habitat that is conducive with the regular patterns and needs of most bighorn sheep herds. About 33 sheep being moved between 2007 and 2009 in an effort to relocate the herd to a safer location. To her knowledge, all the sheep died after being moved, as they don’t fare well with relocation.

While it wasn’t in her published study, Langley says that the current herd of sheep have adapted to their environment, with some genetic differences from other bighorn sheep in the area, such as those in Radium.

“It’s actually really neat, the eat more shrubs and birch and a bunch of stuff that they wouldn’t normally, which shows how hardy they are and how they are so adaptable,” said Langley.

She says that she hopes that the people of Golden will take interest in the sheep, especially as the highway project moves forward, as they’re a recognizable animal that can be seen from the outskirts of town.

“They’re just such a cool animal, it really adds to the biodiversity of the region and people love to see them,” said Langley.

“There’s also not to many of them left anymore, so we have to do what we can to keep those that are here alive.”

The study was funded by the Columbia-Schuswap Regional District, with a $6,000 grant and rom the Public Conversation Assistance Fund, with an additional $3,800.

The full report is available on the Wildsight website.

Claire Palmer

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