People counting animals will be flying over the Okanagan as soon as the weather clears this week, continuing their counts of moose, deer, elk, goats and bighorn sheep.
So far, biologist Brian Harris with the natural resource operations ministry says the news has been good, with healthy populations of moose counted in region 8-9, on the east side of Okanagan Lake including Okanagan Mountain Park, particularly in the burned area. He says the 230 counted is a figure that’s up from all previous estimates.
As well,the population of California bighorn sheep in the park has done very well, and Harris figures there will be an open season for hunting there in 2014, although a conservative season.
Last March, 74 were counted, but he expects that means there were 111, and that was prior to lambing season.
There were 49 bighorns transplanted in two releases there a few years ago, and they have done well, he said, becoming a self-sustaining group in an area where people can see them and enjoy them all the time.
There were also about 100 mountain goats counted in the Okanagan Mountain Park area. Prior to the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire, there were typically only about 16 in that area. Fire made a huge difference to the habitat for ungulates in that area, noted Harris.
In just three days of flying near the beginning of December, 700 mule deer were counted in the Princeton area, he said. Some were in groups of a hundred at a time.
As well, 340 elk were counted in that area, indicating management efforts over the past 80 years have been successful.
Harris said the first elk of that group were moved into B.C. in the 1930s, transplanted from near Edmonton to Naramata first. Then when they did well there, some were moved to the Princeton area.
In 1995 or so, Harris says they moved in a half dozen elk from the Fort St. John area to provide some diversity to the herd, and things really improved after that.
As conifer bugs such as mountain pine beetle thin out the timber, browse for them will improve and the herd is expected to remain healthy, he figures.
He estimates there’s actually 525 or so in that region, extrapolating from the areas where counts were done.
It’s similar to the number counted several years ago, so the population is remaining stable. They summer in the Manning Park area, he says.
In recent years, wolves have moved back into the Okanagan, with regular sightings in a number of areas.
However, there’s been a burgeoning population of them in the upper Shuswap and the Grand Forks areas, he said.
In both areas there are also concerns about the numbers of deer.
“It makes you wonder about the connection,” he commented.