The balance of nature has been tipped in favour of Wile E. Coyote as predators are gaining the upper hand in the region, according to local outsdoorsmen.
An annual Trail Wildlife Association survey of the populations of deer in the region has revealed some startling numbers.
Unofficially, deer populations in the Fort Shepherd region have declined by 80 per cent since 1969, when the annual count showed around 500 animals on average—and over 600 at its highest—wintering in the region.
But with around 100 deer settling into the lush forest southeast of the city last winter, there is some concern the cause of the decline is related in recent years to a rise in predators.
Cougars and wolves are pushing into the area, adding their numbers to the plethora of coyotes plaguing the backcountry in some areas, said Terry Hanik, president of the Trail Wildife Association (TWA).
As a result, dropping deer populations have become the association’s main concern, he said.
“We, as hunters and members of Trail Wildlife Association, have got to do something on our part to relieve the pressure on deer,” he said.
Last year was the worst season for hunting for everybody, Hanik pointed out. There were a lot of hunters that went out in fall when the season opened and never saw a deer.
“Either the deer are getting pushed back far into the bush or what, we just don’t know, but they are just not here,” he explained.
The former president of the TWA concurred. Rick Fillmore said it was his belief and that of many other outdoors people that predators have increased in numbers in the West Kootenay.
Black bears, coyotes, cougars and now wolves are the culprits, he noted.
“Our mule deer populations are at extremely low levels and the predators (especially cougars) are one of the causes,” he said. “Last year hunters complained of seeing more wolf and cougar tracks than deer tracks.”
Wolf sightings are becoming common, Fillmore pointed out, as they have been seen in the Salmo-Creston area, at Nelway, in the Pend d’Oreille Valley, the Cascade summits and in the Arrow Lakes District.
In fact, a wolf has been spotted at the top of the Montrose cutoff, Hanik added.
Fillmore felt the network of power lines, logging roads and pipeline right-of-ways criss-crossing B.C. contributed to a corridor that allowed predators to be very mobile in their pursuit of prey.
And it explained how so many predators have made it into the Greater Trail region. Those corridors have led the predators into more settled areas where the deer have been thriving for years.
Hanik said an explosion of deer a few years ago in settled regions of the West Kootenay meant predators would eventually follow as their numbers dwindled in the upper reaches of the backcountry.
And predator populations have stayed while prey populations dwindled.
“As ungulate populations—whitetail deer, mule deer, elk—decrease the predators will probably move on,” Fillmore stated.
But Hanik said until they do something needs to be done now before the balance is upset beyond repair.
As an association the provincial BC Wildlife Federation is lobbying for some control of predators, said Hanik. But what happens once predator management is advocated is resistance develops that blocks the management process.
In the East Kootenay they have shut five regions down for mule deer hunting, hoping to stop their decline in those areas. In the West Kootenay, Hanik said, they don’t want to shut anything down—but they need to.
“But by the time they get more hunters into the picture, there aren’t going to be anymore animals for them,” he said. “Opening up everything is no good. They’ll kill off all of the animals.
“They are all over and we have to do something to take the pressure off of the deer and the animals around them.”
B.C. Conservation officers would not return phone calls.