A terse message was posted on the Valley Fish and Game Club Wilderness Watch Facebook page last weekend by Denis Martel, well-known in the Cowichan Lake area for his untiring efforts to protect the district’s wildlife from the careless and callous human actions.
“Well, here we go again. A majestic bull elk was poached last week in the Cowichan Lake Area…If you happen to be out for a walk/drive, keep a lookout for ravens, crows and maybe the odd turkey vulture circling overhead. The poached elk had about 40 crows circling above. That is how the animal was found. It is that time of year that the elk begin to go missing.”
His efforts have a lot of support in the west Cowichan area, where the Roosevelt elk are well-known and the big bulls have been given names, like Bob or Henry.
Lots of local residents watch out for them, keeping track of where they are, and what they are doing, in case — as has happened before — the huge animals get tangled in nets or debris.
Wendy Stokes, one of these enthusiastic watchers, has reported on the Facebook page that a there’s a new bull in town.
“I think he’s a five point. He has about six cows and a couple of babies. His name will be Sam,” she posted in mid-September where several fellow elk followers welcomed him but worried about encounters with rival bulls vying for control of the cows.
Martel is incensed with the recent poaching.
“This is our first one this year. We call it the season, right? We’ve had one poached. It was a bull: a six by five [the number of points on the antlers]. I can’t give you specifics because it’s under investigation right now. But it was discovered by one of our Wilderness Watch members who happened to be hunting at the time, and reported it to me. I was very surprised to see it already. It was only a few days after hunting season started, not that elk have a season themselves.”
The poaching occurred south of Cowichan Lake.
“It’s just maddening. With all the education that we put out there and all the conservation we’ve have done, it’s hard to fathom that we’re still seeing poaching going on. We probably never stop it entirely but none of it makes any sense to continue seeing the poaching that we see,” Martel said.
“We do a lot of patrols out there, and Conservation are constantly out there themselves, talking to groups, and trying to educate people that it’s not necessary to be doing that,” he continued.
“The government has increased some of the limited entry hunting that’s gone on. We now have a limited entry hunt in the Shaw Creek area that was never there before. This year, we’ve even had one lucky resident of Lake Cowichan who won the draw.”
Most hunters are extremely watchful, keeping an eye out for poaching. Sill, it seems strange to see poaching so early, according to Martel.
“I get so frustrated with people’s attitude. They should use the Conservation Hotline: 1-877-952-7277. It’s open 24/7.”
He explained that Wilderness Watch is affiliated with the Valley Fish and Game Club, proving that hunters are conservationists, too.
“They’ve covered our expenses for Wilderness Watch signs, upkeep on our radios, etc. etc. People aren’t aware that we need money for this,” he said.
The Roosevelt elk herd were re-introduced to the Cowichan Lake area about 30 years ago but they’ve made such an impact that it seems they’ve been there forever.
“When people think of Lake Cowichan, or the Cowichan Lake area, they think of elk. People come from all over the place to see these majestic animals. I’d hate to see it to the point where they become endangered. But if people continue poaching, something’s going to give, and unfortunately it will be the limited entry hunting and people coming from far away to view the animals. The more they get poached, the less able the herds will be to sustain themselves.”
Another thing to remember about the elk at this time of year is that it is mating season and the bulls are tremendously excited. It’s a good idea to give them a wide berth, and, if you’re in the Lake area, to watch out especially for one named Bad Attitude.
Martel himself saw Bad Attitude in Youbou recently.
“I knew I had the proper bull elk, because of his uneven spike antlers. B.A. was all by himself behind Cassy’s Coffee shop. Earlier in the day, B.A. had put the run on someone else who was just walking his dogs in the Youbou Ballpark.
“If you come across B.A., please keep your distance…he is very unpredictable! Ask Wendy Stokes. He chased her around her car until she outdistanced him and found safety in her car. Luckily, B.A. did not have a car door lock opener!” he said.
The Roosevelt elk are special to more than just Cowichan Lake residents.
In a report prepared for the provincial government by J.F. Quayle and K.R. Brunt, the subject of elk conservation was addressed in detail.
The authors say that, “Although Roosevelt elk were historically more widely distributed, in Canada they are currently found only on Vancouver Island and in some watersheds in southwestern British Columbia. The current distribution is largely a result of historic market hunting and forestry activities, as well as of later translocation efforts to expand the elk’s range. Most of Canada’s Roosevelt elk occur on northern Vancouver Island…A more detailed analysis suggests an estimate of 3,660 Roosevelt elk in British Columbia, approximately 65 per cent of which are mature animals with the potential to breed.
“Most of the province’s Roosevelt elk, some 3,300 animals, occur on Vancouver Island where they form two metapopulations. The finite rate of increase for Elk on Vancouver Island suggests stability, and local population estimates also imply that Roosevelt elk in British Columbia are stable to increasing throughout their distribution,” the report stated.
However, humans are affecting where the elk live, according to Quayle and Brunt.
“Despite the apparent current stability of Roosevelt elk on Vancouver Island, future declines in elk numbers are expected because of their vulnerability to habitat modification, predation, linear disturbance, and unregulated hunting.
“Several sources of information suggest a negative overall picture of the status and trend of Roosevelt elk winter habitat in British Columbia, which has been degraded by industrial forestry. Habitat protection is improving, although the absolute area of protected winter range is currently difficult to determine and is not expected to exceed a small amount of high-capability habitat in the near future.”