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Wildlife facing dire hardship this winter

Ungulates in the region at at historically low numbers, and facing an unusually tough winter. - Larry Tooze
Ungulates in the region at at historically low numbers, and facing an unusually tough winter.
— image credit: Larry Tooze

Barry Coulter

The hoofed animals of the East Kootenay are facing tremendous hardship, starting with unusually cold temperatures followed by record snowfalls. Coupled with the fact that ungulate populations in the region are at record low numbers, the situation for these animals is dire indeed.

To help out, volunteers with the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund, a local wildlife conservation organization, have organized a wildlife feeding program, acquiring supplies of hay and stocking it around the region so deer, elk, bighorn sheep, etc., can more easily feed.

Ed Swanson, a member of the KWHF, said this year's critical situation started out with a colder than usual winter through several weeks in December and January, which the animals had to deal with — though the big concern is the historic amounts of snow that have fallen recently, over a short time frame.

"The animals are pawing through two to three feet of snow," Swanson said. "But the weather will turn, we'll get harder crust snow, and it will be very, very hard for the animals to paw through to get their nutrition."

Swanson said the KWHF ran a similar feeding program more than 20 years ago — during two other famously hard winters — 1995/96 and 1996/97. But there is a difference these days.

"The wildlife numbers were healthier back then — the ungulate numbers were in good shape. We did have mortality, but the strong populations aided in recovery."

But today, ungulate numbers are at historic lows, due to a great variety of factors.

"The last thing we needed was a hard winter on the animals we have left," Swanson said.

The feeding program is already underway. Swanson said there are some 400 tonnes of hay available from various sources in the region, of which a few semi-loads have been delivered. Volunteers are donating time and equipment to get the hay out to more than 20 sites in the East Kootenay (generally south of Canal Flats), where the ungulates can congregate and feed.

But what's needed is some more financial support from the public, to purchase more hay and keep the program running.

If you're interested in helping, send a cheque to PO Box 100, Kimberley, B.C., V1A2Y5. Tax receipts issued upon request. For more information, call Carmen Purdy at 250-489-8043, or Ed Swanson at 250-426-6854.

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