What's happening to elk in the Columbia Valley?

Posted on
Photo: Princess Lodges / Flickr

This event was part of Wild Spaces Recreation Dialogues, a series of Wildsight-hosted events geared specifically toward those who move through our valleys and mountains on foot, wheels or water. Visit wildsight.ca/events for more information about the upcoming talks in Radium on May 29, and Fernie on June 12

Independent ecologist Brian Gustafson has witnessed a lot of change in and around the Columbia Valley over his lifetime. Born and raised in Golden, Brian grew up hunting with his dad, mountain biking, kayaking and playing hockey. During winter drives to Invermere for hockey games, he remembers seeing herds of hundreds of Elk. Now, he says he’s lucky to see herds of 30 to 50 animals. 

Today, Brian is an independent ecologist and much of his work revolves around researching and monitoring local elk populations. In his talk as part of Wildsight’s Wild Spaces Recreation Dialogues, Brian spoke about some of the many challenges and threats that elk face in the Columbia Valley — from habitat degradation, destruction and fragmentation, to the impact of recreational activities like mountain biking and ATVs.

While it’s clear that our elk aren’t doing so well — the draft Kootenay Region Elk Stewardship Plan found that Elk populations in the North Trench aren’t resilient or self-sustaining over the long term — a lack of data has prevented scientists and land managers from fully understanding what’s going on. Brian’s work as part of the North Elk Collaring Project is trying to shed light on some of those gaps and hopefully help elk populations to bounce back.