Sunday, December 05, 2010


How about a happy BC Rail story?

BC Mary: How about a happy BC Rail story from earlier days?  It's hard to imagine this event unfolding without British Columbia being owner and in control of its own BC Rail. 

The date for this story was 1994, the location: Lillooet (where, who can forget, two former BC Rail trainmen were killed in a trainwreck under the new management). I thought others might enjoy this walk-through of a quieter time in our history ... also I wondered if there's still a Public Conservation Assistance Fund (PCAF) ... and yes, there is. PCAF was founded in 1974, and is still working ...


Re-introducing California Bighorn Sheep to a Historic Range

By Holly Clermont

Investment Details
PCAF Grant 488: $3000 in 1993
Community Contribution: 720 hrs by 60 volunteers
Total Budget: $18,600 plus in kind

Government fish and wildlife agencies across North America commonly use translocation to reintroduce animals to portions of their historic ranges. A review by Donald Blood in 2000 found that over 1870 animals had been transferred to at least 70 sites in British Columbia during the last century. Transplants of wild sheep had been particularly successful.

In the mid 90’s, the California Bighorn Sheep population wintering along the Fraser River between Churn Creek and Lillooet had grown to over 1200 animals and had exceeded habitat carrying capacity in some areas. The Big Bar area was the most over-populated, causing over-grazing of winter range and reductions in annual lamb numbers. Additionally, wild sheep were attracted to alfalfa fields leading to increased conflicts with farmers and ranchers as well as increased risk of parasite and disease infections.

Wild sheep enthusiasts and Ministry of Environment Wildlife staff were concerned about the potential of a die-off. Rapid declines in populations had occurred elsewhere in the province. Lungworm complications, particularly in combination with other stressors, were suspect.

So, the first question was, if sheep [could] be removed from the herd, where could they be moved to have the best chance of survival?

The Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia and the Lillooett Rod and Gun Club proposed that some animals from the Big Bar herd be transplanted to Mission Ridge, a historic California Bighorn range located along the north side of Seton Lake just west of Lillooet. In 1958, hydro dam construction had opened up road access to this area which led to legal and illegal over-harvest of sheep. The herd had been extirpated by the late 1970’s. The Ministry of Environment agreed, and a co-operative plan was devised by the Wild Sheep Society of BC, The Foundation of North American Wild Sheep and BC Rail to proceed with a transplant.

{Interesting details snipped from the original article are readable by clicking HERE ...}

The second issue concerned the capture of animals. How could it be done and could it be successful?

A station baited with hay and apple pulp was set up on a farm property about 40 km north of Lillooet in January 1994. By the third week in January, about 40 sheep were coming to the station. On January 25, a large (21 m²) drop net was set up over the bait. Some sheep went under the net the next day, and by January 27, all had returned and were feeding on the bait. A drop was scheduled for January 29. Nearly 60 volunteers were briefed about the impending operation and provided with an instruction sheet. However, too few sheep went under the net on January 29 and the drop was deferred to the next day.

At 9:00 a.m., January 30, an electronic remote triggering mechanism was used to drop the net over 23 sheep. Two sheep escaped, while the remaining animals were met by volunteers who arrived in trucks within seconds. Quietly working in pairs, the volunteers restrained the sheep, blindfolded them, and held them until they were ready for processing.

A veterinarian and veterinary assistant took blood and fecal samples. Each sheep was given an oral de-wormer (Levasole), an ear treatment (Hexamite), and an injection of Vitamins A and D. Two Wildlife staff sexed, aged and identified the sheep with red- numbered ear tags. They also radio-collared 10 animals to assist in monitoring movements in the new habitats at the transplant site.

Once processed, a team of four volunteers carried each sheep to the 16x7 ft closed livestock trailer and removed their blindfolds. Hay and bedding had been placed in the trailer. Once in the trailer, the sheep remained remarkably quiet, and some were observed eating hay. By noon all of the sheep were loaded and ready for transport by rail to Lillooet.

As the 21 sheep made their way to Lillooet, two Ministry Wildlife staff captured a ewe and a ram several miles away from the drop net using a net-gun fired from a helicopter. The additional capture was made to add some genetic diversity to the new herd and to expand television coverage of the event. The ewe traveled to Lillooet in a transport box in the back of a pick-up truck, while the ram was anaesthetized and made the trip in the back seat of the helicopter.

By 4:00 p.m., all 23 sheep had been transferred to the boxcar and were in transit by rail to the release site. BC Rail also donated a passenger car for the capture crew and 30 spectators. The entire capture was videotaped by BCTV (now Global television) and featured on a major newscast in Vancouver and on the CTV National across Canada. The Bridge River-Lillooet News printed a two page feature article on the transplant.

Sixteen adult females, 6 adult males and 1 juvenile female were transplanted. The sheep willingly left the boxcar and all but one ran uphill to their new home. A lone ram ran back towards Lillooet. Adults ranged in age from 1 to 5 years. Fifteen of the 16 adult ewes were pregnant. This sex ratio and age structure were deemed ideal for re-establishing the herd.

From January 1994 to 2001, the Mission Ridge herd increased to 50-60 individuals and remains at that level today. To support the increasing population, in April 2001 a prescribed burn was undertaken to increase the quantity and quality forage for the herd.

The success of this ambitious project reflects a partnership approach to a conservation opportunity. Volunteers, government and a corporation worked together to ensure that investments in time and money resulted in the re establishment of a herd of California Bighorn Sheep. And the Public Conservation Assistance Fund, a long term program of the Habitat Conservation Foundation, provided some of the cash to allow the volunteers to invest in the equipment and services needed to maximize the effects of their labor contribution to the partnership.

As government wildlife biologist Fred Harper noted “Without the enthusiasm and volunteer support of the Sheep Society's membership, this transplant would probably not have been done.”

And Blood agrees. “Most of these important conservation achievements (wildlife transplants) in the province would not have been possible without the hunter-generated input to the HCTF, volunteer labour provided by Fish and Game club members and the planning, technical expertise and enthusiasm of government wildlife personnel.”


Clermont, Holly 2006 “Transplanting California Bighorn to Mission Ridge”
A Case Study of a Project Funded by the Public Conservation Assistance Fund, The Stewardship Centre for BC.

Donald Blood and Associates 2000 “Ungulate Restocking Projects in British Columbia: A Conservation Success Story.” HCTF project files.

Harper, Fred 2008 Personal Communication.

Copyright Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation 2009


Skookum1 writes:

Nice story.....I've seen the Mission Ridge herd on the last few occasions I took the Budd Car, some of them hang out on the McNeil's Bluffs which the railway skirts along the base of towards the Lillooet end of the lake, very carefully, and they can be right near the tracks.

I wanted to comment about the 1958 "road built for hydro construction", though.  It wasn't quite like that...

Hydro construction had been going gangbusters since the end of World War II, revving up the original diversion project which had lain fallow since the start of the Depression.  Hydro (then BC Electric and its subctractors Northern Electric and Hume & Rumble), used the old Bridge River Road to access and supply the site at Lajoie Falls, near the Gun Lakes and Gold Bridge (it's just Lajoie now, no more a falls...).

That road, the first leg of which ran over Mission Pass (as it still does) from Shalalth, and up the flat bottom of the Bridge River from the other side.  It was already in use by everything from ore trucks to taxis and stages to jalopies that, if they weren't already rickety by the start of the trip, would definitely be by the end.  Hydro and the mines collaborated on upgrading it, as it was getting quite the beating from all that tonnage.  But there was no road connecting directly to Lillooet from up in there, travel out of the Bridge River Country was by rail only, using flatcars converted into "rail ferries", as the term is now, though locally the term was "the Gas Car", which ran from Shalalth to Lillooet and back a couple of times a day.

In those days, Bralorne-Pioneer Mine was the largest town in the region (there were no regional districts then), passing in size by far either of Lillooet or Squamish, and seconded only by Bridge River, which was what the Hydro townsite and community around Shalalth and Seton Portage were called at the time.  Bralorne had a small hospital and clinic, Lillooet likewise though from what I understand it had a better surgery set-up.  Lillooet's hospital and ambulance service were fought for, hard, in the 1950s, because of the rough roads between there and Lytton, where St Something or Other's Hospital had been operating since the 1870s or 80s (it was one of those closed by the Campbell govt).  Bralorne's hospital was company-funded - Bralorne was a company town, not a municipality - and necessarily not as well-equipped.

The lack of a road directly to Lillooet proved fatal; two young girls, I think it was, were injured in a motor vehicle accident and died on the ambulance's journey over the mountain to Shalalth.  Public calls for a road route to conenct to the outside world got to fever pitch, public meetings were held, and the mines company and Hydro pitched in equipment and materials, and "the New Road" as it was called, was punched through the Bridge River Canyon from the damsite, where the Mission Mountain Road reached the Bridge River Valley, and Moha, a ranching area at the confluence of the Yalakom and Bridge Rivers 10 miles downstream.  It's hard to explain the staggering nature of the Bridge River Canyon's terrain, you really have to drive through it to "get it".  Even after the New Road got built, there were stretches where the whole buttress of the mountain overhung the road, which was blasted almost like a tunnel through a notch at the base of the cliff; "the Overhang" was blasted away in the mid-1970s, opening up the upper Bridge River to logging trucks at last (sniff, sigh).  I remember travelling that stretch of road, watching the then-undiverted Bridge River at eye level next to the car, a big roaring set of rapids large boulders might roll down like bowling balls.  The cliffs overlooking the road rise over 5000 feet, and prior to road construction were home to, I was told, "thousands" (probably hundreds) of goat and sheep.  Once the road was built, "hunters" could just sit on the side of the road with long-range rifles and pick them off the cliffs...not that they'd be able to cross the river to get to the "trophies".  Ditto with game in the upper Bridge River, which like the Stikine/Spatsizi and Muskwa-Kechika had been dubbed "the Serengeti of the North"....despite decades of mining in the upper Bridge River, deer and even moose were regularly spotted in large herds, right next to the Bridge River Road, and in even greater numbers higher up and higher "in".

So that road construction as in 1958, in response to a community emergency, built by the community directly.  Phil Gaglardi, who had refused government financial support like other ministers before him, came and made a speech about how the road would be taken over by the provincial highway system (who hadn't spent a nickel on it), though I think he did allow tax writeoffs by Hydro and Bridge River Mines.  Nice speech, ribbon-cutting, but the road was built in response to government inaction, not with the government's help.

The preferred route into the upper Bridge River towns had been different, and because of World War II never got built.  The Yalakom gold find at Blue Creek/Big Dog Mountain was at full-tilt when the war opened, and MLA George Murray was among those on-side to get a road into the goldfields, and to connect Bralorne to its new workings in the Yalakom, by coming around the north end of the Shulaps Range via Poison Mountain and Quartz Mountain and down into Tyaughton Lake from there; if you look at the map, it's the same road distance as route via the Terzaghi-Moha "New Road", because that latter is so incredibly twisty (a double horseshoe bend), and much more geotechnically easy.  It, like the Yalakom gold project, was largely shelved after the war and it didn't occur to anyone to revive it, even though Bralorne was even bigger; such a road also served no purpose for Hydro.  And today would be environmentally blocked I'm sure - not that environmental concerns have prevented the building of a web of logging roads throughout the Yalakom and upper Bridge River; but start talking pavement and you have forestry and the local eco-population joining forces against opening up any new country.

Suffice to say that horse travel through the Bridge River Canyon, i.e. from Moha to the foot of Mission Mountain, used to take two days by rough trail.  It now takes 20 minutes.

I"m writing from memory so may have timeline and circumstances screwed up a bit.  The best account of the New Road and its construction is in Lewis Green's "The Great Years: Gold Mining in the Bridge River Valley" from Tricouni Press, publ. 2000 I think.  A highly readable book, full of all kinds of characters and also detailed accounts of the mine speculations and stock market ploys and politics etc.


BC Mary comment:  Many thanks, Mike. If I remember correctly, this is your ancestral territory, isn't it?  Your first-hand history memories are good reading.


It brings a tear to one's eye to see a citizen owned corporate citizen given away by a corporation controled government and turned into a profit driven greedy corporate entity.
My Dad, who was construction boss for Hydro, was probably in charge of getting that road indicated to me by someone who'd worked for him who's from Seton. And I think it was 1955, not 1958, when it got "punched through".....

My Mom drove into Lillooet on get her driver's license. When the Govt Agent, who knew her well, asked her did she have time to take the exam, because the gas car was leaving in just a few minutes, she told him she'd driven over (with us in the car, which was a brown 54 Chevy wagon).....he took his pen off the application form for a moment, looked at her, pulled out a license, signed it and gave it to her. "If you can drive that, you don't need a driver's exam". He was meaning not just the new road, but the pass as well as the Moha Road, which runs up the Bridge River from Lillooet to the Yalakom cutoff (which is where Moha is); the old Moha Road was a relic of hydraulic mining activities in the 1870s-80s and had been used since only for access by the community of ranchers at Moha/Yalakom. It's still a scary road, but believe me, not like it used to be.....Dad called the Lytton-Lillooet Road, now Highway 12, the "Hee-Haw" (as opposed to the Moha), and it was the old gold rush-era wagon road - which had only been upgraded somewhat after the CPR came through Lytton and on occasion since then, since being markedly straightened in the 1970s. Another really bad road until the 1970s was Lillooet to Pavilion/Marble Canyon, which was pretty much the old original Cariboo Road built by Gustavus Blin-Wright (which was a toll road, by the way, as most were in those days, quite at odds with imperial and domestic British policy/tradition).

The Lytton hospital I couldn't remember the name of previous was St. Christopher's, not sure of its date of founding but it was one of the oldest in the province when the Libs shut it down.
Leonard Krog is one of the Baker's dozen, does this association explain why he was so quiet when Court Room #54 folded its tent on the BC Rail Trial in late October?

Me, I think yes.

And why he stonewalled us on the 5th Anniversary BCR-CN opportunity,



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