Annual South Okanagan sheep count helps detect potential herd issues - InfoNews

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Annual South Okanagan sheep count helps detect potential herd issues

Members of this year's Vaseux sheep count prepare to head out for the count last Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Matthew Lewis
February 11, 2020 - 6:00 PM

An Okanagan sportsman’s group has been playing a key role in maintaining healthy sheep populations in the valley for more than 70 years.

The Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association completed its 71st count of the Vaseux Lake bighorn sheep population in the South Okanagan on the weekend. The annual count occurs on the second Sunday in February.

Association director Lee Clarke says the group met on Sunday morning, Feb. 9, at the Vaseux Lake Campground before splitting into four groups to head up into the mountains to conduct the count.

“It takes about four or five hours to get the numbers. We usually return to the clubhouse for lunch,” Clarke says. “The Vaseux herd is pretty concentrated, and they’re down further on the mountain this time of year, which is why we choose February for the count. There’s still some hiking involved."

Members of the South Okanagan Sportsmen's Association relax after last weekend's sheep count.
Members of the South Okanagan Sportsmen's Association relax after last weekend's sheep count.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Matthew Lewis

Clarke says 100 sheep were counted, slightly more than last year’s number, but consistent with other prior years. He doesn’t believe the sheep are under any particular stressors at this point in time.

“We spotted wolf tracks but they’re probably not uncommon for that area. We didn’t see any more than usual,” he says.

Clarke says the sheep are spread out along the valley from Okanagan Mountain Park to the border. The herds tend to stay in certain locations, but some sheep leave their herd and travel to and from other areas.

The numbers are provided to the province and often act as a detection system for problems amongst the valley’s herds.

“The province uses the numbers as a guide. If there is a big variation year to year, they may decide to conduct an investigation to find out why,” Clarke says.

“During the last big die-off with the Vaseux Lake herd during the 1990s, it was our count that alerted provincial officials that something was going on."

The South Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association was organized in 1942 and is affiliated with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. The group calls conservation its main mission on the association website.


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