Region-wide LEH on Mountain Sheep

Regulation Number: 
2023-04-17
Status: 
Proposed
Region: 
Region 4 - Kootenay
MU: 
4-1
4-2
4-21
4-23
4-24
4-25
4-35
Regulation Type: 
General Open Season
Limited Entry Hunting
Species: 
Mountain Sheep
Closing Date: 
February 11, 2022 at midnight
Decision Statement: 

Pending

Current Regulations: 

There is currently a Sept. 10 to Oct. 25 general open season on full curl ram mountain sheep in MUs 4-1, 4-2, 4-21, 4-23, 4-24, 4-25, and 4-35. Portions of MUs 4-25 and 4-35 are closed to sheep hunting.

Proposed Regulations: 

Replace the general open seasons for mountain sheep in Region 4 with Sept. 10 to Oct. 25 full curl Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) seasons. Approximately 18 individual LEH zones are proposed.

Rationale: 

[NOTE: The posting of this proposal on the Angling, Hunting, and Trapping Public Engagement website was delayed to provide more opportunity for local stakeholders and provincial wildlife managers to explore and discuss alternative options to mitigate concerns regarding mountain sheep populations and harvest rates in the region. The deadline for commenting on this proposal has been set at February 11th to allow people adequate time to provide feedback.]

As of 2021, many of the low elevation and two high elevation wintering bighorn sheep herds have declined in the Kootenay Region, with many bordering on non-viable status. The cumulative effects of land use, predation, road kills, reductions in habitat quality, and focussed hunting pressure are interacting as stressors on Bighorn sheep herds. Of the 12 Population Management Units identified in the Kootenay Region Bighorn Sheep Management Plan, 9 PMUs contain subpopulations that are < 75 bighorn sheep. The Bighorn Sheep Harvest Management Procedure recommends a harvest rate of not more than 3% of the estimated population, and closing the season if there are <75 bighorn sheep observed.  With the current level of interest, hunter participation and harvest, greater regulation over hunting pressure and harvest in herds bordering on non-viable status is warranted.

Ram hunter numbers have increased over the past 3 decades, despite declining abundance of sheep in many areas. Hunter numbers averaged 352 per year since 2005 and peaked in 2010.  On top of higher hunter numbers, expanding road networks, new vehicle technology, technological improvements in hunting tools, and social media have increased the vulnerability of sheep to harvest across the region. The increasing competition is also reflected in higher numbers of known illegal (mistaken) kills. Known illegal kills represented 3% of total harvest from 2002-2011 and doubled to 6% of total harvest from 2012-2020, although the true percentage may be higher due to non-reported illegal harvest. In addition, hunter effort for bighorn sheep has steadily increased since 2004. 

Assessment of the age distributions of rams in the harvest between 1975 and 2020 revealed a strong trend over the past two decades toward an increase in the proportion of 8+ year old rams in the harvest, coupled with the apparent loss of recruiting rams where the cohort of young rams with fast growing horns are now predominantly absent from the harvest.  This observed trend of declining representation of 6 & 7-year-old rams in the harvest, suggests that the current level of harvest pressure is likely contributing to slower horn growth, and rams reaching full curl status at a later age. 

This proposed regulation change will help meet harvest management objectives in the Kootenay Bighorn Sheep Management Plan (FLNRORD 2021) to increase escapement of mature rams and reduce illegal kills.

All herds except for Flathead (which winters primarily in Alberta) were inventoried in 2019 and 2021. Of the 16 herds inventoried, 73% had observed numbers less than 75 sheep.  Since 2012, 1/3 of the herds inventoried in 2019 and 2021 declined.

Aerial surveys have also shown limited escapement of mature rams from the full curl GOS. Winter surveys found Class 4 (mature and full curl) rams comprised approximately 2% of observed sheep in GOS zones from 2019-21. Proportions of full curl rams is slightly higher in the Elk Valley East (3%), where many sheep use mine properties that restrict hunting and public access. The proportion of class 4 rams observed in GOS zones declines to 1.4% when data from the Elk Valley East are removed. It is important to note that rams are expected to have higher sightability bias than ewes and may be underrepresented in survey results. Regardless, these results suggest that a high proportion of the mature rams are likely being harvested in the current season.

Additional Information: 

For more information on initiatives and efforts to manage and restore mountain sheep populations in the Kootenay Region refer to the Kootenay Region Bighorn Sheep Management Plan

For more information on the analysis of harvest analysis refer to Kootenay Region Bighorn Sheep Harvest Management Analysis