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British Columbia’s Cassiar Stone’s Sheep Project


April 3, 2020
posted in: News

British Columbia’s Cassiar Stone’s Sheep Project
Health Sampling and Ewe Collaring/VIT
Year 3 April 2020 Update

Bill Jex, RPBio., Provincial Wild Sheep and Mountain Goat Specialist, FLNRORD.
Province of BC WAFWA-WSWG and Wild Sheep Foundation PRA Board member


The world has certainly changed over the past several months since our November 2019 update. COVID-19 is now a household topic that is affecting all our lives here in BC, Canada and the world. Despite this, our sheep are oblivious to the human outcomes, and so our project continues to collect data about their lives and things that are important or that affect them; we are fortunate in that regard. Someone had mentioned to me recently that they felt the COVID-19 affect on humans was possibly similar to the effects that Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi) has on wild sheep and goats…perhaps in the sense of how quickly it can spread within a population of individuals and across the range, with a significant majority of the population being vulnerable to infection, there are similarities. We remain fortunate however that Movi has not yet been found in our Cassiar ewes!


- Photo by Darryn Epp

Spring 2020 Update and Recap from Winter 2019-20:
 • Of the 8 ewes collared in February 2018, ewe 41316 was predated by a grizzly; 41319 was caught in a landslide heading to lambing habitat; 3 expelled their VITs prematurely; 41323 went off the air in August 2019; and 41321 went off-air October 2018, but some remaining collars continue to provide location information.

 • In 2019, of the 11 ewes and 1 yearling ram were collared in Feb. and Apr. From this group ewe 42704 went off the air in on February 13th, 2020; ewe 42701 went off the air on January 1, 2020; 42699 was killed in an avalanche (suspected) on December 31, 2019;

 • Back in summer 2019 we organized fieldwork, placing trail cameras along trails regularly used by the collared sheep to collect data on lamb survivorship, group size, and use by other species. We still plan on collecting these cameras in summer 2020 and use the images to better inform our analyses and whether ewes that we know were pregnant or who had lambs, still had their lambs at heel. This tells us a lot about lamb survival rates in the Cassiar area.

 • We also collected forage samples for plant ID; soils samples for nutrient analyses; and mineral lick samples for mineral analyses back in 2019. Our plans still include expanding on these collections and on completing preliminary habitat analyses. The project occurring in the Jade-Boulder area is also completing similar assessments, so we are collaborating with SDF Environmental Consulting, who is doing the work on behalf of the TCG and TGOA.

 • Initial outreach of some of the findings occurred in our last update and both Grace Enns and Caeley Thacker are working on more analyses. We hope to be able to share those findings and summaries soon.


- Photo by Darryn Epp

Heading into the new reality for doing fieldwork for our study in 2020, our planning remains a bit uncertain but seems to be coming together with a day-by-day strategy. Our short-term goal is to recover the collars that are on mortality or that have gone off-air, and to also gather the trail cameras we set out last summer; these will provide very important data. The data analyses associated with the habitat selection and compiling the health sampling data is still being done by our two lead researchers Grace Enns (University of Alberta, MSc, Boyce Lab), Dr. Caeley Thacker (University of Calgary, Veterinary MSc). Dr. Helen Schwantje (Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian) and Bill Jex (Provincial Wild Sheep & Mountain Goat Specialist) are adding what we can to the efforts and in providing updates like this one. We are also undertaking logistical planning for this project, and planning next steps and further research in collaboration with the Jade-Boulder/Dome Mountain study that will look at forage and environmental nutritional qualities across the two herd home-ranges.

For our ewes, some may be getting ready to have a lamb while others will hopefully still be tending the one they had last May or June. In either case they will now have had to deal with winter wolverine-wolf-coyote pursuits, the March Alaskan Golden Eagle migration that funnels through their range and in short order, threats from grizzly and black bears who will be emerging from the dens and venturing into sheep habitat. The challenges for our Cassiar ewes, lambs and herd are not limited to just respiratory ones.

We are also increasingly understanding how significant the loss of breeding age ewes might be on the population’s sustainability, particularly if the remaining ewes in the population are unable to have a lamb in consecutive years, or until they reach 3 or 4 years of age. Following the completion of current and future study work, we hope to have more information about this.

I have noted before that the northwest of our province, overlapping the traditional territories of the 3 Nations’ peoples, is something as rugged as it is beautiful and as harsh as it is comforting; that you can’t fully appreciate it until you’ve been there... As our lead researchers have found, every aspect of wildlife study and project delivery is challenging because of this remoteness, ruggedness and climate, but despite that it’s truly special, because these landscapes are the everyday home to some of BC’s globally unique Stone’s sheep.
This project continues to succeed due to support from the University of Alberta; the Wild Sheep Society of BC & the Jurassic Classic fundraiser; the Wild Sheep Foundation & Outer Circle Bunch; the Abbotsford Rod & Gun Club; the Alberta Chapter of Safari Club International; the BC Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation; the Northwest Guide Outfitter Association; the Tahltan Guide Outfitters Association; the Province; and the Dease River First Nation people and Good Hope community.

The Cassiar mountains and the sheep that call them home are truly special. Once here, there’s no place that you’d rather be!

This update comes with well wishes to all of you and your families!

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