Article By Kyle Stelter, WSSBC Director of Communications
The Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia (WSSBC) is a not for profit registered Society dedicated to the protection and enhancement of wild sheep and wild sheep habitat throughout British Columbia. In 2018 we will be celebrating our 25th year of existence, and with 2017 being one of our strongest years on record, we are very excited about the momentum we’re carrying into 2018.
The WSSBC was conceived in 1992 when a small group of conservation minded B.C. residents concerned about California Bighorn Sheep populations in the Fraser River basin decided more attention needed to be paid to this iconic subspecies. With dwindling sheep numbers, it seemed that a die-off was inevitable and something drastic needed to be done to preserve the populations. A small group of advocates met to discuss if an organization could be drawn together to work with the Ministry of Environment with the mandate of producing better habitat for wild sheep. An executive committee was formed and in March of 1992 the Wild Sheep Society received their official Society status from the B.C. government.
With a new burgeoning Society one of the challenges was generating money and attracting new members. Although the initial organization’s primary focus was on the Fraser River California Bighorn population it quickly became clear that a province wide approach was needed to be successful as a sheep conservation organization. By focusing on the four distinct species of wild sheep in B.C., a broader group of conservationists could be drawn into the fold. Using a grassroots approach, WSSBC began soliciting members at gun and sportsman shows across the province.
WSSBC’s first annual general meeting was attended by 64 wild sheep enthusiasts. The largest agenda item of that very first AGM was whether or not WSSBC should become affiliated with the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS), Wild Sheep Foundation’s (WSF’s) predecessor. Johnny Drift, the first Vice President of FNAWS petitioned those in attendance outlining the benefits of being associated with FNAWS. The options were highly debated and in the end WSSBC voted in favour of joining the organization as an affiliate member.
The first major project that WSSBC embarked upon was a wild sheep transplant in 1994 involving 23 California Bighorns. The animals were captured along the Fraser River near Big Bar and transported by truck and train to Seton Lake in the Bridge River Valley near Lillooet. The Ministry of Environment was in full support of that first project and Fred Harper, Section Head of Ministry of Environment (Kamloops) was an integral part of ensuring the transplant came to fruition.
We have since pursued various projects across British Columbia’s vast landscape. In 2010 we carried out two very successful transplants in Okanagan Mountain Park in the South Interior. Two herds of wild sheep were established in the Park with one group being relocated from Keremeos and the second from the Sun Rivers Golf Course in Kamloops.
Unfortunately, transplants have abated in the last few years due to disease related issues. A majority of our resources are now directed towards disease management and habitat enhancement strategies. Our Projects Chair Chris Barker has thrown our support behind PhD student Adam Herring from the University of Saskatoon on a Psoroptes Mite treatment program for Bighorns in Penticton. The project, which commenced in 2017, involves several different agencies, bringing together donors and volunteers, including the Wild Sheep Society of B.C., Penticton Indian Band, the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., as well as the Wild Sheep Foundation.
In early 2017, the Wild Sheep Society of BC was invited to participate in a Guide Outfitter spearheaded prescribed burn project, partnering with Tuchodi River Outfitters. We were able to contribute $25,500 of the $40,000 budget that was allocated exclusively from our Northern Fundraiser account for this prescribed burn.
The burn took place this past summer in the Tuchodi River Valley and was another great collaboration with multiple partners. North Peace Rod and Gun Club (FSJ) contributed $10,000 from their wild sheep account and the BC Conservation Foundation added the final $5,000 to complete the funding request. Tuchodi River Outfitters provided a great deal of in kind support including burn permit application fees, mop-up crews, accommodations and staging areas. Lastly, Highland Helicopters donated materials for ignition as well as forgiving standby charges.
We have a number of burn projects planned for 2018, which will restore critical wild sheep habitat. These projects fall under the Wild Sheep Foundation’s GIA (Grant in Aid) program and we received $30,000 USD, which will be used for a burn project to restore critical California Bighorn habitat in Southern B.C. Through the Union of B.C. Municipalities we are eligible for funding under their Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative (SWIPI). Through SWIPI we could receive up to a 9:1 match on funds for these burns, which on a $30,000 USD investment, would qualify us for an additional $270,000 USD toward the project.
B.C. is home to the largest and most diverse population of wild sheep of any given province, state or territory in North America. Wild sheep can be found from the dry desert-like climate of the southern interior to the glacial northernmost corner along the Yukon border. There are four subspecies of sheep spread across this province. They have adapted to thrive in some of the harshest environments and continue to be an iconic symbol of our B.C. wilderness.
Current wild sheep population estimates in British Columbia are around 20,000 with roughly 6,500 being Bighorn (California and Rocky Mountain). Our Thinhorn sheep populations are estimated at 13,000; of which all but a small population, located in the Northwest of the province, are Stone’s sheep. We have a small population of roughly 500 Dall sheep in the Tatshenshini-Alsek region of the province. With such a globally significant population of Stone’s sheep we have a special responsibility to protect this species and ensure their long-term health and viability.
The Wild Sheep Society of BC currently holds two annual major fundraisers that are critical for generating funds, which we reinvest back on the ground into wild sheep projects in BC. We hold a convention in March of each year in Kamloops, and in early 2017 we inaugurated a Northern Fundraiser in Dawson Creek. During our annual Fundraisers and Convention, we engage our membership and the public with updates on the status of our wild sheep populations, the latest on our projects and research, awareness of wild sheep health and disease issues, and other educational events related to wild sheep and of course sheep hunting.
In 2017 two WSSBC members that are residents of Dawson Creek recognized an interest in throwing a Northern event to generate money for wild sheep, which became our Northern Fundraiser. All money raised from this fundraiser was put into our Northern account and ear marked for Thinhorn projects in Northern B.C. Money raised in the North, stayed in the North. We felt that with the Northern community supporting our event it was paramount that the money be reinvested back into this critical wild sheep region.
Our 2017 Northern Fundraiser, held in February at Fixx Urban Grill, was wildly successful selling out in 24 hours. The support we had from the North was incredible and allowed us to invest in a crucial habitat restoration project in the Tuchodi region (the prescribed burn noted above).
With the continued support and interest of Northern communities we are holding our second annual Northern Fundraiser February 3rd, 2018 in Dawson Creek. With such strong demand we have expanded to the Encana Events Centre, allowing us to offer a larger venue with additional tickets available. This year our guest speaker is Kevin Hurley, Wild Sheep Foundation Senior Director of Conservation along with Carl Gitscheff, Director of the B.C. Trappers Association who will offer a presentation on wolf trapping. The event will include industry vendor displays, seminars, live and silent auctions, and some amazing raffle items.
The Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia is committed to preserving and ensuring that wild sheep in British Columbia flourish. Our Northern Thinhorn populations make up an integral part of the landscape in British Columbia and through the support of the Dawson Creek and surrounding communities, we have the resources to carry out that mandate. Tickets to the Northern Fundraiser are on sale now at www.wildsheepsociety.com for $100 and includes a catered dinner, access to vendors, seminars, great raffle prizes, and all the excitement surrounding a wild sheep fundraiser.
Our Kamloops Convention is a two-day affair, which will be held March 9th and 10th, 2018. Friday night we are hosting our Fun Night and Backpack Races, which are sponsored by Sitka Gear. Both the winning men and women’s team will receive a Sitka jacket and pants for each member of their team. Our Life Member breakfast is sponsored by Yeti with all life members attending the breakfast receiving a WSSBC engraved Yeti mug as well as an opportunity to win a West Texas Aoudad hunt. On Saturday we will hold the Dave Marsh Memorial Shoot, which will be hosted by Swarovski Optik. The banquet itself is always an exciting event with tons of great raffles, live auction, and silent auction items. We have Cailyn Glasser of ONA Initiative, Kelli Thornton of Sitka, and a number of other great presentations lined up for the weekend.
The past two years the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. has been an integral part of the Jurassic Classic sturgeon fishing derby held in Chilliwack, BC. We have partnered with the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C to offer this great wild sheep fundraiser. Twenty-eight teams of two anglers are treated to a fantastic weekend of white sturgeon fishing on the mighty Fraser River along with first class meals, great prizes, and a wild meat and salmon BBQ. In 2017 this catch and release derby generated over $42,000 for wild sheep enhancement projects in British Columbia. Teams for the 2018 tournament can be purchased at our Northern Fundraiser and Kamloops Convention as well as the Wild Sheep Foundation Sheep Show in Reno.
An important source of revenue for WSSBC the past few years has been our Wild Sheep Raffle, which this year features a Desert Sheep Hunt guided by Clay Lancaster and Lancaster Expeditions. Second prize is a Swarovski ATS 20-60 x 65mm HD spotting scope donated by Precision Optics, with the third prize a Kuiu apparel package. This is an incredible prize package for this raffle with a limited number of tickets. The Desert sheep hunt prize package covers all travel expenses to, from and during the hunt as well as accommodations, licenses and tags. The profits from this raffle are used for on the ground wild sheep habitat enhancement projects and critical habitat property purchases in B.C. This raffle has been an integral part to growing and increasing project funding used to build and sustain healthy populations of wild sheep in B.C.
Wild sheep are an important resource and definitely something we need to protect. We have been actively working with the Government of British Columbia to develop strategies to ensure the health of these magnificent creatures. In November of 2017, as the WSSBC Director of Communications, I personally met with the Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Lana Popham, to discuss wild sheep concerns relating to disease transmission from domestic stock in our province. We are advocating a Provincial Disease Regulatory Framework to further protect our wild sheep. Disease continues to be a massive threat, and the possibility of a mass die-off is very real in British Columbia. It is our goal to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with domestic producers to build a system that will protect wild sheep from these imminent threats.
This past year WSSBC enjoyed many successes. The funds from the Northern Fundraiser event allowed us to support the Tuchodi River burn project. We were able to grow our membership by a staggering 30% in 2017 with a similar growth target for the coming year. Many of you may have noticed a brand facelift, with a fresh new logo and website with online store. Having received the grant from Wild Sheep Foundation we have a number of burns slated for 2018 and we will eagerly be awaiting favorable weather conditions for these projects. Funds raised through the Jurassic Classic will be spent on critical British Columbia sheep projects in the coming year.
In late spring, we added to our team a new Executive Director, Ms. Lisa Hettrich. Lisa’s drive and attention to detail will undoubtedly be a force in our continued success as we tackle new challenges in the future. You will see and hear more from Lisa as she continues to support our goals.
In 2018 we will have a number of exciting announcements about the future of our great organization. Watch for an exciting release on January 10th that will allow members of our Society to have an exclusive opportunity to expand their support of wild sheep conservation across North America. We will also offer our members the unique chance to do some hands on work with wild sheep habitat restoration in 2018.
As always, the key to our success as an organization is the support of our membership. We have a dedicated group of individuals that are the backbone of our organization and joining WSSBC is inexpensive with membership options starting at $50 a year. Membership qualifies you for special industry product discounts, a quarterly newsletter, monthly e-blast and frequent giveaways. The best part of joining WSSBC however is that you are joining a fraternity of enthusiastic conservationists that are passionate about protecting wild sheep and their habitat.
If you are not a member and are thinking about joining you can do so online at our website. We are also always soliciting volunteers to assist us on our various projects. In addition to our fundraisers we are planning some pub nights at select locations across the province in the coming year. Tickets are on sale now at www.wildsheepsociety.com until January 18th, 2018 for our Northern Fundraiser. You can also get your Wild Sheep Raffle Desert Sheep Hunt and Kamloops Convention tickets there.
The Wild Sheep Society thanks our dedicated membership for continuing to support our organization and wild sheep initiatives in British Columbia. We are always eager to welcome new members and hear from others about anything pertaining to wild sheep. If you are interested in wild sheep conservation in BC I encourage you to contact me personally at the email email@example.com or by telephone at 250-619-8415. Better yet, come out and meet our Board of Directors at our Northern Fundraiser February 3rd, 2018 in Dawson Creek or March 9th and 10th, 2018 at the annual convention in Kamloops.