Conservation officers in northeast B.C. have seized seven stone sheep in the Fort Nelson region so far this season after failing compulsory inspection.
Conservation Officer Jeff Clancy has been in the Northern Rockies for more than two years now, and says the rams were brought to him in August.
"The majority of them were because they didn't meet the legal definitions of full curl, that was by annuli or the actual age. Some of them did meet age, but had other issues, like failing to remove edible portions," said Clancy. "Every year we do try and educate the public. The Wild Sheep Society and other non-profits do a fairly good job. We also put on seminars on how to age sheep in the field."
Regulations in B.C. stipulate that wild sheep can only be legally harvested when they are eight years of age or full curl, meaning that the tips of the horns have to go past the bridge of the nose when viewed from the side. Annuli are growth rings found on a ram's horns and can indicate the age of the animal, but rams often have false rings.
Wild Sheep Society of B.C President Kyle Stelter agreed that the issue is largely due to hunters being unable to accurately judge age and horn size, noting it's highly unlikely anyone would blatantly poach wild sheep.
“I genuinely don't think there's any malice whatsoever," said Stelter. "The way it works is that unlike other species, with sheep, every single sheep that's harvested in B.C. has to go through a compulsory inspection. It has to be viewed by a regional biologist or contractor who will assess the horns and ensure that they are in fact full curl or eight years old criteria."
Stelter says this can be tricky, noting there are false curls on the horns which can throw off even experienced hunters.
“It’s very challenging to do, even for an experienced individual. The best criteria by far is using the past-the-nose method, but you might have a ram that’s 11 years old and they just never really grow past the nose because of the genetics,” said Stelter.
He added that the shape and size of rams vary by region, and in some cases rams may have broken off sections of their horns off by fighting other rams or foraging for food.
“Rams use their horns all the time, for a number of things – they’ll rub in the ground, or they’ll rub them on other things, or they’ll fight and get broken,” Stelter said. “More often they just get worn down, it can be an old ram that’s very mature, but his horns have been broken so it’s no longer past the nose.”
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News