Golden Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Project

Have you ever seen Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Kicking Horse Canyon?  Have you ever wondered about them? You are not alone!  It is not at all rare to see these sheep on or near the TransCanada Highway #1.  Their presence is a safety hazard: cars slow down to look or try to avoid hitting an animal; drivers stop, honk at, and occasionally hit the sheep.     Watch Here!  

Growth in the number or health of a group of living things is potentially limited by limiting factors including: predation, highway mortality, poaching, inbreeding, poor diet, high stress levels, insufficient area, insufficient mineral licks, etc.

 

Nevertheless, the sheep persist.   The story of the Golden herd of bighorn sheep is an interesting look at survival of wildlife which coexist with a major freeway, live in close proximity to a town, and occupy a relatively small and extremely rugged area. Phase 4 of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s TransCanada highway widening project  is coming soon and the associated disturbance and alterations to sheep habitat could further jeopardize the herd. In hopes of helping the sheep survive, Wildsight Golden began the Golden Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Project in January of 2019.    Wildsight Golden is using non-invasive methods to learn as much as possible about what factors are keeping the number of sheep low while also engaging the public to learn more about wildlife and to share locations of wildlife sighting near highways in the area.  

 

 

This work has led to a clearer understanding of the factors limiting these sheep and numerous recommendations of what might be changed to alleviate the situation they face. 

The project has seven objectives:

• Develop baseline herd health data using noninvasive fecal collection methods to obtain measures of degree of inbreeding, diet quality, parasite loads and stress hormone levels.

• Determine the extent of genetic interchange between Golden herd and other area herds for which genetic data already exists.

• Evaluate lambing success and survival.

• Identify seasonal ranges and critical habitats including lambing areas.

• Assess current range quality and use.

• Determine most effective habitat enhancement sites.

• Engage highway user groups and tourist to share wildlife sighting along Hwy #1 and Hwy #95

 

Although one might not expect to see Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Kicking Horse Canyon, this unique herd has resided there since at least 1986. Their numbers have gone up and down with supplemental feeding for many years and translocations in 2007 and 2009.  Despite being isolated they do not appear to be inbred; however their diet quality is relatively low and they have parasites which could lead to concerns.  

Where they came from is not known for certain but sightings in the Blaeberry and north led to the thought that they came over the Continental Divide from Alberta. Our research has shown that the Golden sheep are most closely related to the Radium herd, based on genetic analysis. This makes sense based on their proximity.

The Golden herd has decreased in size over the last several years despite 2 lambs surviving in 2016, one in each of 2017 and 2018, followed by 3 in 2019.  Five lambs were born in May and June, 2020 with 2 still alive. We hope to be able to find out why lambs are dying and what can be done to help this herd survive.

Since 2016, sheep locations and group composition have been recorded frequently by observations from dedicated trips to the 5-mile Bridge and back to Golden.  Numerous other variables have also been recorded on the over 225 trips made since February 2019. This has allowed for knowledge of seasonal ranges, herd size and composition. 

Range quality and use were evaluated and determined to be of low quality, especially when human disturbance is considered.  Use of shrubs and forbs in some areas was very high, especially along the TransCanada highway which may serve as a pathway through the area for the sheep.

Habitat enhancement options were considered and recommendations include improving the quality of the current habitat by removing garbage, planting preferred species and creating alternate travel paths to the highway.

To date over 50 sightings have been shared helping us understand the movements of animals relative to highways, useful information for managing traffic and highway mortality and for establishing wildlife travel corridors.  This information will be shared with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to help in their placement of move-able signage to be used in conjunction with redirection of traffic through Radium. 

The key recommendations of the study follow:

1.      Improve winter and spring range quality by cultivating highly digestible and high-protein shrubs, forbs and grasses and removing invasive weeds and garbage

2.      Document sources of required minerals within the study area and ensure access to mineral licks without interaction with highway

3.      Ensure lambing area immediately west of Yoho bridge experiences limited to no disturbance from May 10 to July 30, annually

4.      Alter fencing to encourage use of wildlife overpass, critical spring ranges and areas away from the TCH1

5.      Alter one-way gates to impede two-way use and/or replace one-way gates with jump outs where appropriate

6.      Create level to slightly sloping travel routes for sheep and other wildlife to use to move east to west through the canyon

7.      Install speeding cameras and lighted signage in the canyon near areas of high use by wildlife

8.      Place movable signage used during traffic diversion periods based on wildlife locations data

9.      Determine species of dorsal spine larvae present using molecular techniques

 

Golden Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Project Report Aug 2020

 

Bighorn sheep often use the same areas all of their lives and usually have one lamb at a time.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep prefer open areas with access to escape terrain. The Kicking Horse Canyon offers good escape terrain but not many open, grassy areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildsight Golden is looking for volunteers to help with this project! You can help us know where animals are and where they cross the roads by learning to recognize different ungulates (animals with hooves) and sharing locations on your smart phone. download the free app “GAIA GPS Hiking, Offroad Maps” onto your smart phone and make a folder. 

 

Learn more about Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in B.C or watch some sheep videos here

Behaviours and indicators you might see:

 

Bighorn sheep are gregarious and like to be in a group, usually divided by gender.
Fecal material (poop) can be used to learn about the health of bighorn sheep.  The indicators we have been able to assess are inbreeding/genetic diversity, parasites, pregnancy, stress hormone and  intake of protein, fiber plus digestibility levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bighorn sheep can see clearly up to 1 km away but they can’t smell well.

 

We would like to thank our supporters and funding partners:

Upcoming events related to Golden

Winter Speaker Series - Do it Yourself! Building Habitat for Bats: the Goldilocks approach

Event Date:  Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Dr. Cori Lausen is a Research Biologist specializing in bats who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada…

Winter Speaker Series - Do it Yourself Propagating plants from cuttings, seeds, and veggies in your fridge

Event Date:  Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Join Andrea Crook, who is passionate about sharing her love of growing your own food. In this workshop…

Winter Speaker Series - Do it Yourself Backyard Composting

Event Date:  Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Graham Casselman is the Waste Reduction Coordinator for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. This session will include…

Winter Speaker Series - DIY: How to Improve Human and Wildlife Coexistence as we Explore our Great Outdoors

Event Date:  Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Dr. Annette Lutterman is a dynamic speaker and leader in Wildsight Golden's West Bench Study. This talk…

Winter Speaker Series - DIY: Swallow Identification and Ways to Support Birds at Home

Event Date:  Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rachel Darvill is a Wildlife Biologist and the Project Manager for the Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project…

View All Events

Latest news related to Golden

Columbia Valley Swallow Project Releases New Video

This year we located 135 swallow nest sites in cliff faces from Canal Flats to Donald, including 96 active bank swallow colonies

KCP and Wildsight Golden co-hosted a Virtual Conservation Action Forum

Photo credit: Blair Piggot Kootenay Conservation Program partnered with Wildsight Golden to bring together over 30 experts through…

Golden’s 31st Annual Christmas Bird Count

Join Golden's 31st Annual Christmas Bird Count on December 27, 2020 Calling  all bird watchers! …

Golden West Bench Recreation Use and Wildlife Habitat Study

Wildsight Golden is working in collaboration with local recreation groups to develop a study that focuses on the…

Columbia Valley Swallow Project Update October 21

Swallows are remarkable little birds. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica, dashing and dipping through the air with rapid-moving wings.

Read More News

Branch Information

Contact

golden@wildsight.ca
Box #25
#203 - 421 9th Avenue N
Patlar Building, Golden BC V0A 1H0
1-250-439-8491

golden@wildsight.ca

Join The Team

Want to protect wildlife, clean water and wild spaces? Volunteer with us! Wildsight volunteers are a very special group of people who give generously of their time to stuff envelopes, attend rallies, help run events, put up posters, keep tabs on forestry practices in their communities and participate in citizen science initiatives.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES