The harvest of a California big horn sheep east of Penticton has led to the Penticton Indian Band (PIB) calling for a stop to harvesting the species until it can get back on its feet.
After the harvest of a ram in the Upper Carmi area came to the attention of the PIB, the band released a statement on Oct. 22 requesting a moratorium from the province, which issues tags to harvest the at-risk species.
“The issuance of hunting licenses without our community’s free, prior and informed consent has been an ongoing issue for many years,” said newly elected PIB Chief Greg Gabriel. “This is unacceptable; the Penticton Indian Band must be meaningfully and appropriately engaged regarding any and all decisions pertaining to the harvest of our tmixw within our unceded Territorial lands.”
For years the PIB has been working on restoration and enhancement programs to protect the herd which was imperilled a few years ago with an outbreak of a severe infestation which closes up the ears of the animals. The California big horn sheep are also highly vulnerable and sensitive to human disturbance, forest development and grazing competition, according to James Pepper, PIB director for natural resources.
In 2016 the band launched a multi-year collaborative program to support the local populations and rid them of Psoroptes ovis, a disease which was leading to significant population declines.
“Their population was in extreme decline so we partnered with the province, and with some veterinarians and the band, and we built a sheep enclosure and worked to experiment to find cures for that disease,” Pepper said. “Now on the other side of the valley, the herd is in better shape, there is more of them, but they are also susceptible to a variety of different diseases as well as forest encroachment, houses, land alienation, cattle that are grazing everywhere.”
There are a couple of groups of bighorn sheep stretching south past the Canada/U.S. border and roughly divided east and west by the Okanagan Valley's lakes.
There are less than ten tags given out by the province in the Okanagan area to harvest bighorn sheep which are given out in a draw — one of which the hunter seen harvesting the sheep in the Carmi area possessed.
“He produced his tag indicating he was legally allowed to harvest that animal. So that was brought back to the elders and knowledge keepers of the community and to the community itself. At this time the band doesn’t feel those sheep should be harvested, the population isn’t robust enough," Pepper said.
The PIB also said in the statement it is looking to have more input with the province when it comes to hunting and the issuance of licenses in the area.
Pepper said he has spoken with provincial authorities — who declined to comment to the Times-Chronicle due to the interim period of government between elections. The province gives roughly five or six tags for harvesting big horn sheep a year. The PIB is requesting none be given out until the population can get back on its feet. Not only are the Okanagan sheep susceptible to disease, the population is still quite young and undeveloped.
“There are very few, if any, that even have that curl anymore because the population isn’t diversified. So there are a lot of young males, and that was the one that was harvested, but it’s not a robust enough population from the opinion of elders and knowledge keepers with the Penticton Indian Band, to allow for harvest at this time,” Pepper said.
With recent outbreaks of disease and the active efforts by the PIB and conservation organizations to develop sheep habitat, including the Wild Sheep Society of BC, the harvesting of the young ram provoked a response from the PIB.
“There are a lot of people involved in trying to restore the habitat for these herds, and then to have hunting allowed while we’re trying to restore a population was counterintuitive,” Pepper said.
“The harvest has been going on for many years, this isn’t a new thing, but it’s still going and the sheep are not, in the opinion of elders and knowledge keepers of the Penticton Indian Band, the populations are not robust enough to handle harvest loads right now. They need to wait a little bit. A little bit of harvest could occur, but not licensed hunters.”
Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle