Contributor Bob Lampert spots the resident Roosevelt elk herd lingering near Schmuck Road on Oct. 12. An influx of elk in the Bulkley Valley and Lakes District has created problems for area farmers. (Black Press photo)

Forests ministry to conduct aerial elk count

Bulkley Valley-Lakes District landowners can expect low level helicopter flights first week of March

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development will be conducting an elk count in the Bulkley Valley and Lakes District during the first week of March.

Mark Wong, a biologist with the ministry’s fish and wildlife division, said landowners can expect to see low level helicopter flights over the area from Witset to Francois Lake starting March 2 and continuing through the week, weather permitting.

The project is designed to give the ministry a better idea of the elk population in the area to better inform policy decisions.

“As more elk have come in, we’re seeing increased conflict with landowners in terms of the elk getting into the feed and silage and hay to wrecking fences and in some cases injuring animals as well,” he said.

READ MORE: Bulkley Valley farmers welcome proposed changes to ALR

Two years ago, in an effort to mitigate the conflict, the ministry began opening limited entry hunting (LEH) seasons during the winter to help push the animals away from agricultural lands and give resident hunters an opportunity to harvest the meat.

“The proposed series of short, LEH seasons is patterned after similar regulations established for Mule Deer in the Francois Lake area in the mid-2000’s, which appear to address the bulk of the socio-agricultural issues in those areas,” the original proposal stated.

“This approach is intended to disperse the elk and reduce the damage associated with extended periods of occupation on individual farmlands; with hunting activities targeted at keeping elk on the move and to introduce human threat responses in the elk which will also keep elk moving around the landscape.”

Wong said previous counts in 2016 and 2018, which relied on landowners reporting if they saw elk on their properties on a particular day, indicated a minimum population of 200 animals.

This year’s aerial survey will attempt to get a better idea of the minimum population size and composition of the herd by covering a broader area over a longer period of time.

The survey will use two helicopters, one out of Smithers ranging from Witset to Houston, and one out of Houston ranging out to Burns Lake and Francois Lake.

Wong said the ministry’s protocol is to be the least disruptive to wildlife, livestock and people as they can be.

“We’re not going to be hovering over anybody’s homes or anything like that, but we just wanted to get the word out, so people know what we’re doing,” he said.

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