Until Bambi and his family can fill out a census form, nature lovers in the Peace Region are asked to come out and volunteer for the annual Public Winter Wildlife Count.
On Jan. 19 and Jan. 20, participants are asked to join in the sixth annual count in the areas around Fort St. John, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Hudson’s Hope and Tumbler Ridge.
Volunteers will pick a certain “block” of land to cover, then record how many animals they see over a certain time frame.
The information will be used to help inform wildlife management decisions, and help monitor trends in where and how many animals there are within the region.
Julie Kline, a wildlife technician with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, said that the project stemmed from previous participant from the community.
“It really stemmed from (the Ministry) getting a lot of phone calls,” she said. “People were providing a lot of feedback on what was happening with animals in their area and we didn’t have a way to record that in a meaningful fashion.”
In response, they took a cue from the Christmas Bird Count and provided a standardized method for people to report where and when they saw the animals.
The results are not always the same year to year.
“Some years we see lots of elks and other years we see no elk,” she said. “That’s due to the fact that they move huge distances over a short period of time, where deer tend to have smaller home ranges.”
Part of the challenge of recording these animals is that they may not often want to be seen.
“If it’s warmer than minus five, (moose) tend to find the shade and hang out under the tree until its get cool enough for them.”
One participant, Don Hoffman, has been going to the project for the last three years. Hoffman, a nature photographer, and said that he enjoys looking at the wildlife he’s seen.
“You learn so much about the animals by looking at their tracks,” he said. “(The count) definitely helps raise awareness.”
However, over the past three or so years, there have been fewer and fewer volunteers like Hoffman.
In 2008, there were 72 participants spread out over 40 groups. By January 2012, that number had dropped down to 22, according to a 2012 Public Wildlife Count report.
Because of these conditions, this means that these volunteers could not survey as large an area for as long an amount of time.
In 2008, volunteers were able to survey 127 “blocks” of landscape over 124 hours of time. By last year, that number had dropped to 44 blocks and 58 hours of observation, which has been consistent with the last three years for the count.
That meant a correspondingly less amount of animals that were recorded. In 2008, over 2,100 animals were spotted. By 2012, that number was done to 591.
Despite this drop in numbers, the province uses this information only to add to official counts.
“The data collected from volunteers through this project cannot, by itself, provide the precision and accuracy needed to estimate populations with a high degree of confidence,” according to the 2012 report. “However, it can complement the more rigorous game inventories biologist conduct.”
“It helps the government with cutbacks,” he added.
Kline said that she hopes that more people come out this year to help with the project.
“The more the merrier,” she added. “The more people we have the better picture we’re going to get.”
Kline also said that the contest will give out prizes to some participants. Last year’s prizes included Bushnell binoculars, a survival box, and a pocket knife.
Anyone interested in signing up for the volunteer program should contact the Natural Resource Operations office in Fort St. John at 250-787-3294.
2012 ANIMALS IN PEACE REGION ACCORDING TO VOLUNTEER WILDLIFE COUNT
Mule deer: 280
White-tailed deer: 64
Sharp tailed grouse: 6