By air and by ground, Williams Lake conservation officers are focusing enforcement efforts on protecting vulnerable caribou herds from out-of-bounds snowmobilers in the mountains east of Williams Lake.
“It’s a top priority within the Conservation Officer Service (COS),” said Sgt. Jeff Tyre, acting provincial lead for caribou enforcement with the COS.
“There are many ways the protection of the caribou is being carried out and we are just one part of that work.”
During helicopter patrols last weekend (Jan. 30) in the Quesnel Highlands east of Williams Lake officers discovered a herd of 11 caribou on Cameron Ridge.
“Unfortunately within one kilometre they located a high density of snowmobile tracks that were made only a couple days prior. The snowmobiles had made a significant amount of track through high value caribou habitat very near to where the caribou have been wintering,” Tyre said.
“It is thought that the noise created by the snowmobiles can push caribou out of this critical high elevation winter habitat and into marginal habitat thereby threatening their ability to successfully overwinter.”
Tyre said the snowmobile tracks themselves also pack the snow giving wolves the chance to access high elevation and deep snowpack areas that they cannot normally get to, allowing them to prey upon the vulnerable caribou.
As part of their enforcement efforts, officers have been paying particular attention to the branch roads off the Spanish Lake Road, the Cariboo Lake Road and the Cunningham Pass Road and in particular, to the area around the Cameron Ridge trail.
COS snowmobile patrols earlier in the year located a number of incursions into the snowmobile closure north of the Spanish Lake Road. Tyre said they have stepped up patrols and increased signage in the area to deter snowmobile operators from going into the closure and potentially impacting the caribou herds.
In this latest case, Tyre said the snowmobiles came from the Barkerville side of the Cunningham Pass Road.
Billboards and other signage are placed throughout the backcountry notifying snowmobilers of the closures. Extensive maps of the closed areas are also available online to be downloaded onto mobile devices.
“They are obviously engaged in this recreational sport so they should know better,” Tyre said, noting snowmobiling in closed areas could reduce the number of caribou, which could in turn lead to more closures to protect the species.
“We don’t want to see those caribou numbers drop. Also, that could lead to more closures and we don’t want to see that either. If we can show the snowmobile industry is complying, and protect the caribou, it’s a win win.”
Tyre pointed out they have seen 100 per cent compliance in the Meridian area, north of Yank’s Peak, which is ‘great to see.’
Mark Snowball, president of the Williams Lake Powderkings, said they work with the COS and don’t want to see riders sled in areas closed to protect caribou, even if they do so accidentally.
“We all get painted with the same brush,” Snowball said, adding education is a key piece to keeping everyone riding where they are supposed to be.
“There are places you can and can’t ride, that’s just part of snowmobiling. We are fortunate to have the riding areas we do.”
Tyre is asking for the public’s help in identifying the people responsible for snowmobiling in any closed sensitive caribou habitat this winter.
“The Conservation Officer Service would like to ask the public that if they see or hear of snowmobiles being operated in any snowmobile closure, to notify the Conservation Officer Service immediately,” Tyre said.
If anyone knows who was operating snowmobiles in the Cameron Ridge area between Jan. 25 to Jan 29, they are asked to please call Report All Poachers and Polluters at 1-877-952-7277.