Western Canada a Hot Spot for Safari Club Conservation Projects

With 15 chapters and 3,247 members in Canada, Safari Club International has a strong presence throughout the north country. The world class hunting and fishing opportunities that Canada offers make it a global destination for outdoor pursuits. The Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) has also cemented a strong presence throughout Canada, particularly in the western provinces where SCIF and local SCI chapters have been directly involved with an impressive list of conservation projects focused on a variety of species.

Over the last decade, SCIF has developed an extremely effective partnership with the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences while collaborating with the Northern Alberta, Badlands, and Drayton Valley SCI Chapters to help leverage resources and funding for projects. SCI and SCIF’s conservation efforts throughout western Canada were recently highlighted as the SCI Virtual World Tour rolled through Calgary with updates on projects throughout the region from SCIF Conservation Director, Dr. Chris Comer.

Recently, SCIF provided funding for a research project through the University of Alberta focused on the habitat and prey selection of cougars on reclaimed coal mines in west-central Alberta. The project modeled habitat selection for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and cougars on ecologically reclaimed mine lands to determine how cougars exploited the landscape while hunting wild ungulates. The research revealed that bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer utilized different landscape features to increase access to quality food sources and decrease predation risk. Wild sheep strongly habituated to the rocky ledges of high walls while elk and mule deer foraged on reclaimed grasslands.  As part of the study, 7 wild cougars were equipped with satellite collars so their habitat selection and hunting behavior could be monitored. The data from those collars coupled with field visits revealed that cougars do the majority of their hunting on reclaimed mine lands themselves, meaning they could be disproportionality predating sheep herds in comparison to elk and deer. The results of this study will now hopefully be incorporated into government mandated land-use strategies for reclaimed mines throughout the region, with recommendations that reclamation projects include configuring constructed landscapes to reduce predation rates on the area’s world class bighorn sheep.

For many years now, the Ya Ha Tinda Elk project has been one of SCIF’s major projects in North America. In partnership with the University of Alberta and University of Montana, this project focuses on the Ya Ha Tinda elk herd, which plays an important economic role in drawing hunters, recreationists, and wildlife enthusiasts to both Parks Canada and provincial lands throughout the area near Banff National Park. The project is one of the longest running elk population studies of an ecosystem intact with a full scope of natural predators like wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. The intent of the study is to gain a better understanding of the declining elk population near Banff by using GPS collars to track migratory movement, calf survival, and hunting vulnerability.

SCIF has also been involved with several grizzly bear projects in western Canada. For the last several years, SCIF has funded a project lead by researchers from the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, and the University of Alberta on the grizzly bear population in the South Rockies of BC. The goal of the project was to improve population monitoring of bear populations in the area to examine the influences of habitat quality on grizzly bear population density and to gain a better understanding of juvenile dispersal, movement paths, and seasonal movements of bears in the area.  The project was also designed to improve methods for surveying grizzly bears to inform future studies how to accurately and efficiently study grizzlies on a population level scale. The project has been a step in the right direction, improving abundance data and ecological understanding of bear populations so that sustainable use management could potentially be re-implemented in the future.

In 2014, SCIF was involved with a project focused on bolstering grizzly bear populations in southwestern Alberta through population monitoring and conflict resolution by examining changes in grizzly bear populations, densities, and distributions. The project also monitored grizzly bear conflicts with ranchers for more than a decade to explore the efficacy of efforts aimed at reducing such conflicts.

(A researcher sets a hair snare to sample grizzly bear DNA)

Another ongoing conservation initiative in western Canada that SCI and SCIF have been involved with is a Stone sheep project in British Columbia’s northern Cassiar Mountains looking at lamb survivorship and habitat quality. The research is a joint effort led by a team from the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and the provincial wildlife experts. The project is supported by SCI’s Northern Alberta Chapter, the Wild Sheep Foundation and several other partners in the region. GPS collars are used to monitor lamb and ewe patterns to gain a better understanding of how lambs survive the region’s full gamut of predators including wolverine, wolf, coyote and even golden eagles, along with grizzly and black bears emerging from their winter dens in this rugged but beautiful landscape.

Expanding their presence beyond just field research, both the Northern Alberta Chapter and SCIF were set be sponsors for the Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council Symposium in Canmore, Alberta. The event was postponed earlier this month in light of current circumstances and the plan is to reschedule the event in November 2020. The Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council is a scientific and educational organization dedicated to the management and conservation of northern wild sheep and mountain goat populations and their habitats in North America. The symposium brings together some of the leading wild sheep researchers and biologists in the world and provides them with a forum to exchange research and management information and to share professional advice on common issues.

SCI and SCIF have been involved with a variety of other conservation projects in the region focused on different species including wolves, otters, trout, and mountain goats. Through strengthened collaboration with local chapters and continued partnership with the University of Alberta, Safari Club will continue to be a leader in promoting wildlife conservation and protecting the freedom to hunt in Western Canada.