The Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club and local conservation officers are urging snowmobilers to make better choices after tracks were sighted heading into the backcountry near Sicamous that is closed to protect a fragile mountain caribou herd.
Signs placed by the snowmobile club mark an area of Queest Mountain northeast of Sicamous which is closed to snowmobile traffic and maps of the closed area are readily accessible. However, a Saturday, Jan. 23 patrol by conservation officers turned up at least two groups of tracks crossing into the prohibited area.
Vernon-based conservation officer Tanner Beck said one set of tracks appeared to be a few days old, but the other seemed to be made just hours before he arrived. One set of tracks passed right next to one of the bright yellow snowmobiling prohibited signs. Further information on the caribou closure is posted at the trailhead used to access the area.
The sleds weren’t the only things leaving tracks on the snow-covered mountain. Beck said fresh caribou tracks which seem to be made by four animals were also spotted. Queest Mountain sits at the western edge of the area used by the group of caribou known as the Frisby-Boulder herd.
Both Beck and Dan Morin, who reports caribou activity and non-compliance in the caribou closures on behalf of the snowmobile club, said the tracks spotted by conservation officers represent the first clear sign of caribou on Queest Mountain in years.
According to information provided by the provincial government’s Caribou Recovery Program, many of Southern B.C.’s caribou herds are in decline but the Frisby-Boulder Herd is especially fragile. It’s size was estimated at only 11 animals in late 2019.
Restrictions on snowmobiling in certain areas as well as logging bans and wolf culls are all part of the province’s effort to turn around the population decline in what are some of the most southerly caribou populations on earth. Despite the work being done, some herds have disappeared completely in recent years.
Morin said the local snowmobile club, which holds a stewardship management agreement for the area, is doing everything it can to ensure closed areas are respected and the local caribou population stays healthy. Morin files a monthly report on caribou activity and the snowmobile club provides maps and other information to sledders to promote respect for the area’s caribou.
According to Morin, a member of the sled club rode up to confirm there were caribou tracks in the area and a snowmobile had definitely ridden directly past the sign telling sledders not to continue.
Morin appealed to sledders, noting that further restrictions on riding in the backcountry could result from entering the restricted area. He added that conservation officers are a welcome sight on the mountain in the winter and more patrols are needed to help enforce the closed area.
Beck said further enforcement of the Queest Mountain closure will definitely be happening this winter.