Recent reports of helicopters flying too close to sensitive mountain goat populations in the Upper Pemberton Valley demonstrate a need for increased enforcement of wildlife regulations, said the head of the Pemberton Wildlife Association.
PWA president Allen McEwan said the non-profit has received two reports this past winter, most recently in March, of "helicopter harassment" of goats on Mount Pauline.
"It's well documented by scientists throughout any mountain goat habitat that helicopters within a kilometre of a known mountain goat population is a serious problem, so the Ministry (of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) has designated mountain goat winter ranges throughout the Sea to Sky corridor and it's up to the operators to know where they are," McEwan explained.
"This is where we come to the problem, where clearly some of the operators either don't know where these mountain goat ranges are or they are simply not respecting them."
Both private and charter helicopter flights are governed by federal regulations, although when an operator's service includes the use of Crown land, provincial authorization is required.
As part of that authorization, helicopter operators must provide a detailed management plan to the province. McEwan has lobbied Victoria to consider reviewing management plans every five years to accommodate for changes in wildlife populations and habitat.
"We had an incident in the Upper Lillooet a few years ago that I reported and it turned out the management plan was 17 years old and the goat winter range that they were violating may not have been known at the time they submitted the plan," McEwan recalled. "That just shows the desperate need for more government staffing here to help supervise and manage these adventure tourism operations."
Under provincial regulations, helicopter flight paths must maintain a 1,500-metre horizontal distance from ungulate winter ranges. Some aircraft that are particularly loud may need further separation. The province is also reportedly considering additional flight path requirements for operators in the Sea to Sky in an effort to improve monitoring.
Sgt. Simon Gravel with the Conservation Officer Service (COS) said one of his constables has been looking into the reports of harassment, but without any firm tips to help identify the helicopters spotted this winter near Mount Pauline, he said the COS would be educating local helicopter companies on proper wildlife practices.
A provincial ticket for harassing wildlife with a vehicle or device comes with a $345 fine—although in severe cases, legal action can also be taken.
Living in some of the most inhospitable terrain in B.C., mountain goats rely on isolated, difficult-to-reach areas in the winter to protect them from predators. At the sight of a helicopter, they can experience severe stress—"scattering like quail," according to the PWA—and in some cases will even fall to their deaths.
The forests ministry has indications that there were seven deaths of collared mountain goats this winter on protected range, but as it has yet to recover any carcasses, it cannot confirm what may have caused the deaths.
McEwan said there are roughly 50 mountain goats in and around Mount Pauline, approximately 100 on the Mount Meager side of the Upper Pemberton Valley, and about the same number to the east of the Upper Lillooet River.
Anyone who witnesses aircraft flying in close proximity to mountain goats should report the details, including photographic or video evidence, if possible, to the COS RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.