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Curly, silly and in decline

In this week's newsletter, reporter Steph Wood tells us about a bighorn sheep herd in British Columbia that was almost wiped out. Plus, we share three job postings — join the pod!

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A bighorn sheep jumps effortlessly over a fence dividing a field. The ram jumps from right to lift, with shorter, lightly curled horns.


They are sweet-eyed, naive and trusting. Their curly horns aren’t particularly intimidating; they can, in fact, be a little silly at times. 

Bighorn sheep have always come close to humans; prior to European contact, they were an important food source for many First Nations.

Today? Not so much.

“I never thought about bighorn sheep as a declining food source for First Nations,” B.C. reporter Steph Wood told me. “But it’s a stark example of the effects of colonization that many people don’t think about.”

Last fall, she came across a paper co-authored by wildlife scientist Clayton Lamb about some well-known endangered species — caribou, bison and salmon. During their interview he pointed out an animal that seldom makes headlines: the vanishing Galton Range herd of bighorn sheep in the Rockies, near the Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it First Nation, commonly called the Tobacco Plains Indian Band.

These herds thrive in native grasslands and open-canopy forests. As most stories on dwindling species go, colonial settlements and industrialization brought a slew of changes. Natural and cultural burns that would have thinned out forests and supported native plants were suppressed; then came a mystery illness from the herd’s proximity to domestic sheep in the ’80s.
 

In soft golden sun, bighorn sheep graze on a green field in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. The trees in the background are green and orange, and houses are visible under the trees. Hills and mountains are visible in the background.


“The lack of habitat is probably the biggest thing,” Gary Phillips, a forestry officer for Tobacco Plains, told Steph.

That’s what the nation is tackling in its pilot project that took off this winter. The hope is that clearing trees — to mimic what cultural burns would have done to the landscape — will make the land habitable for bighorn herds again.

While other herds are doing better, scientists told Steph that climate change poses a threat to bighorn sheep. Getting the habitat closer to what it was pre-colonization is key in making the species “as resilient as possible.”

Phillips is optimistic the Galton herd can become strong enough, like it used to be when he was a child, for Tobacco Plains to source sustenance from again.

“I’m eager to see the impacts of their pilot project, even though it will take a while,” Steph said. “I’ll be really invested in hearing how the herd is doing over the years and how well it’s rebuilding.”

Whether it’s bighorn sheep, salmon or an upcoming story on moose, Steph has more coverage of Indigenous food sovereignty in store. As with the Galton herd, these stories remind us of the interconnected nature of people, animals and the lands themselves — protecting one means protecting them all.

Take care and go count sheep,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor
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We’re hiring (!!!)


The Narwhal is looking for three new people to join the team!

With an election year in British Columbia — with the backdrop of a wintertime drought and another potentially brutal wildfire season ahead — we’re looking for a B.C. politics and environment reporter who gets excited about in-depth news reporting, wants to dig into what’s happening in the legislature and feels passionate about the power of journalism to bridge divides. Check out the job posting here!

We’re also looking for an assistant editor based in Western Canada who is keen to jump in and get things done! If you identify as a word nerd who loves copy-editing and story layout and is excited to make our journalism shine, we want to work with you — apply here!

And finally, we need a membership and operations coordinator based in Victoria to help manage our database of more than 6,000 members and provide general admin support. Do donor engagement and new business models for journalism excite you? Come work with us!

Maybe you have someone in mind who would be a perfect fit for The Narwhal? Forward them this newsletter and tell them to apply! The deadline to apply is Feb. 11, 2024.
 


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This week in The Narwhal

LNG Canada's liquefaction and export facility under construction in Kitimat, B.C., with razor wire fencing
The door to B.C.’s liquefied natural gas export sector is about to open. Here’s what you need to know
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As LNG Canada completes construction and prepares to bring operations online, the export facility could ‘open a gateway’ for other projects to proceed. But B.C.’s gas export sector faces stricter emissions policies, unpredictable market shifts and climate disasters as it tries to maintain its place in an uncertain future.
READ MORE
 
People cast long shadows as they skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway on its opening day in Ottawa, on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. Skaters flocked to the ice, one year after warm and wet weather prevented the 7.8 kilometre skateway from opening for its 2023 season.
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By Denise Balkissoon
READ MORE
 
A new road being carved through the forest
B.C. counted poorly protected old-growth forests toward conservation targets, researchers say
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READ MORE
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What we’re reading


Indigenous author and journalist Brandi Morin was arrested on Jan. 10 by the Edmonton Police while reporting. Her arrest chills press freedom in Canada yet again, Tanya Talaga, a member of The Narwhal’s board of directors, writes in The Globe and Mail.

Looking for some climate fiction to read? Grist has you covered with its latest series, Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors!
 

POV: You trying to get your friends to subscribe to our weekly newsletter, so they can read ewenique stories about the natural world that are un-herd of.

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