Wildlife damage an ongoing issue

Cattle producers pass resolution | Deer, elk and wolves pressure grasslands and cattle herds

VERNON, B.C. — Doug Fossen used to think it was a treat to see an occasional elk crossing his range in the southern interior of British Columbia.

Not anymore.

“We are getting herds of 50 or 60,” he said.

Exploding populations of deer, elk and predators are driving B.C. ranchers to distraction as they fight to protect their grasslands from ungulates and their calves from hungry wolves.

Elk and deer raid haystacks, chew off the grass and wreck fences with little compensation to the rancher.

“You don’t mind feeding a few but for these guys with 1,500 deer, that is a big problem,” Fossen said. He lives at Rock Creek, about 40 kilometres east of Osoyoos and chairs the B.C. Cattlemen Association’s environment committee.

During the association’s annual meeting in Vernon May 23-25, members passed resolutions in hopes of addressing the ongoing wildlife problem.

Ranchers argue that compensation is inadequate and often comes too late.

Considerable documentation is required to prove the affected loss was on farm land and a lack of local assessors leads to delays, said the BCCA.

There is no compensation to ranchers unless there is substantial damage. If the crop can be reseeded in that year, there is no payment or coverage of costs for reseeding. Nor does the program cover year round damage.

Many ranchers rely on crown leases and cannot turn cattle onto the range until the grass reaches a certain level of maturity. It is difficult for ranchers to assess when the grass is ready when wildlife are grazing it down.

“It is getting harder and harder to use the resources on our crown range,” Fossen said.

On his range of about 9,000 acres, he would normally turn out about 160 cows but this year he is cutting back by half, partly because forest growth has cut into forage, and has also forced wildlife to move more into rangeland grasses and into riparian areas.

The problem is common throughout the province, said Mike Rose of the Nicola Valley.

Hundreds of white-tailed and mule deer have moved into his area and they are grazing hay meadows and eating stockpiled spring forage on private and leased land.

“The whole country looks like a golf course,” said Rose.

“We’ve got too damned much wildlife in this province and it is not being taken care of,” he said.

Ranchers also debated and opposed the practice of relocating elk. They want a meaningful elk management plan.

Many say experience shows that relocation does not work because the elk move onto forage and cultivated crops and out compete other species, said Don Lancaster of the East Kootenay region where elk are plentiful.

“Those elk were not indigenous to that area and we are upsetting the balance of nature,” he said.

Members voted to petition the government to ensure affected ranchers are consulted before any relocation takes place. Before transplanting animals, the presence of indigenous species, forage supply and condition as well as range carrying capacity must be addressed.

“It seems in the last 30 years the population has absolutely changed. With the management of the ungulate population there are no goal posts,”said David Haywood-Farmer, president of the BCCA. Ranchers match the number of cattle to what the range can support but in his opinion the government does not assess the carrying capacity for wildlife.

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