Increasing wildlife spells trouble for local ranchers

Local ranchers and farmers are used to sharing their land with wildlife.

  • May. 14, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Margaret Hall


Farm and Rance Scene


Local ranchers and farmers are used to sharing their land with wildlife.

Moose and deer at the haystack and grain storage as well as geese and swans helping themselves to a smorgasbord of delectable offerings are all pretty common, but wildlife numbers are increasing.

I’m sure all of us noticed the thousands of swans in the area this spring and although it is great to see a once threatened specie’s numbers rising, they all have to eat.

I noticed they found good eating at some of the local farmer’s grain storage such as Martens and Halltray Farms.  I’m sure there were others as well.

Deer numbers have also increased dramatically over the last number of years and when the snow gets deep they move into farm yards for the evening where they can eat unthreatened.

For those who regularly drive Northside Rd, last winter sundown and sunset going by Halltray Farms was a dangerous endeavour; a herd of about 20-30 deer crossed the highway into and out of the farm yard and most days there were fresh carcasses on the road

But this year for many ranchers the final straw has been large numbers of elk which moved into the haystacks when the snow got deep.

Elk in large numbers is a relatively new phenomenon for this area but have been becoming an increasing problem in other parts of the province.  In Naramata a herd of about 100 elk moved into an orchard, trampling sprinklers and devouring apple buds. The Peace River area has been struggling with elk in their haystacks for a number of years along with the Kootenay region and closer to home the McBride area ranchers have been battling the problem for a number of years. Elk are more commonly found in mountainous areas as they prefer open mountain pastures in the summer moving down into grassy meadows where the snow is shallow for the winter.  They are primarily a grazing animal compared to a moose which is a browser of willows and poplars. They also travel in large herds and therefore are not as susceptible to predation as smaller animals such as deer or animals that travel singly such as moose.  As long as their food needs are met their population tends to increase quite quickly.

Since the mid 1970s their numbers have increased from approximately 15,000 to 40,000 with 18,000 of them being in northern B.C.

The elk are not native to this area having been introduced some years ago and due in large part to farmer’s haystacks their numbers are increasing dramatically.

Two ranchers in the area I spoke to had an alarming problem with elk this winter; in Fort St James Ross and Sandra Davidson and close to Engen John and Karen Kochel.

I know there were others but these are the two I spoke directly to.  Both of them battled with a herd of up to 40 elk during the peak snowpack time of the winter.  Hay crops were poor last year because of drought and many ranchers such as Davidson’s and Kochel’s had to purchase extra feed to get their cattle through the winter.  This cost was made even worse by the hungry elk that have very little respect for man, beast or electric fence.

The elk not only aggressively chase cattle away from the feed but have so little fear of man they are very difficult to chase off even with equipment or dogs.

Very few resources are available to help deal with problem wildlife.

Government agencies are very quick to remind cattlemen that wildlife belong to the people of the province but when the same agencies are asked about their responsibility for feeding increasing numbers they wash their hands of the situation.

This is especially frustrating with large groups of aggressive wildlife such as elk which are not intended for this area due to their inability to find food in deep snowfall areas.  If nature were to run its natural course large numbers of elk would die off over the winter due to starvation, but as long as a ready source of food (haystacks) is available it means the continual survival of even larger numbers.

BC Agriculture has a wildlife program which helps compensate for damage done to standing crops but it specifically states the program is not available for crops which have been baled or stored in any manner.

There used to be a fencing program to help cover the cost of erecting the necessary 8 foot high panel fence required to keep wildlife out of the stackyard, but this program has been discontinued.

Although farmers and ranchers are willing to do their part to help the wildlife which belongs to the province, it becomes very unfair to expect these hard working individuals who already struggle to make a viable business from agriculture to be a winter feeding program for animals in too great a number to otherwise be sustainable.

This is certainly not a problem unique to this area and needs to be addressed on a provincial level.

Several resolutions pertaining to this will be being put forth at the upcoming BC Cattlemen AGM which will be held in Prince George in June.