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Hunt for oil and gas put on hold

Hunt for oil and gas put on hold

Northern B.C. area closed to exploration until effect on wild sheep is researched

Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, April 03, 2006

The B.C. government for the first time has put a hold on oil and gas exploration in an area of the Northern Rockies until the impact on Stone's sheep, an animal found almost exclusively in this province, can be researched.

The Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources has agreed not to release oil-and-gas exploration tenures until at least 2010 in the area of Sulphur Creek and Eight Mile Creek, prime sheep habitat north of the Alaska Highway between Stone Mountain and Muncho Lake provincial parks west of Fort Nelson.

"We're going through the right steps," said Brian Churchill, a former regional biologist with the B.C. Environment Ministry who now chairs a Stone's sheep science advisory committee overseeing the research. "The earth-shaking part is that the government won't make it open for tenure sales until it gets the research results in. That's the key."

The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area Act, established in 1998 to provide management guidance over a 6.4-million hectare wilderness centred in the Northern Rockies, requires planning before the province issues oil and gas tenures.

David Molinski, the province's assistant deputy minister of oil and gas, said that stakeholders ranging from industry to first nations supported the idea of conducting research into Stone's sheep in the area before allowing oil and gas exploration to proceed.

"There was broad agreement that this was the right thing to do," he said.

About 12,000 Stone's sheep live in B.C., more than 75 per cent of the world population. They are a popular trophy hunt for resident and foreign hunters alike.

Churchill estimated about $1 million in research money would be raised from government, industry, and private sources.

"People are pulling together to make it happen," he said in an interview from Fort St. John.

About 10 per cent of the B.C. population of Stone's sheep lives in the Sulphur-Eight Mile area, the first place in the province where oil and gas exploration would make a serious inroad into the animal's habitat.

Hunters and guide-outfitters have expressed concerns about declining Stone's sheep populations in northern B.C., and fear that oil and gas activity in the absence of research could only worsen the situation, Churchill said.

B.C. resident hunters killed 104 Stone's sheep and non-residents 183 in 2005, down from 201 by residents and 209 by non-residents in 1995.

Researchers are in the field, trapping and putting radio-collars on 100 sheep to allow tracking of their movements, including causes of mortality, as part of the basic research needed to assess the impact of oil and gas exploration.


- The world population of Stone's sheep includes an estimated 12,000 animals in the northern third of B.C., and 3,000 in the southern Yukon.

- The easiest place to see Stone's sheep is on the Alaska Highway in the Northern Rockies west of Fort Nelson, where they are attracted to roadside salts or natural minerals -- and are sometimes killed by passing motor vehicles.

- Stone's sheep are technically thinhorn, rather than bighorn, mountain sheep, and sport darker coats than the province's other thinhorn variety, the white Dall's sheep, only a few hundred of which live in northwestern B.C.

- Stone's sheep are named after naturalist Andrew Jackson Stone, who discovered them in 1896, while the Dall's sheep is named after Alaskan explorer William H. Dall in 1897.

- Hunting is regulated by quota . Only older males with full curl horns may be hunted.

- Guide-outfitters charge foreign trophy hunters $20,000 US and up to shoot one. Hunters seeking the grand slam --- the killing of one each of four types of sheep, Stone's, Dall's, bighorn, and desert --- are almost certain to come to B.C.

- Rams stand about 90 centimetres high at the shoulder, weigh up to 110 kilograms and have horns as long as 122 centimetres from base to tip.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006
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