The poaching deaths of seven Roosevelt elk in the Cowichan Valley this winter have the Conservation Officer Service reaching out to the public for assistance.
The remains of the elk were found in various parts of the Valley in February and March, on private land and mostly in areas where hunting is prohibited.
All seven elk were female, and from different herds. Most of the edible portions of meat were removed. In one case, a fetus was cut out and left beside the cow’s head.
Conservation officer Mark Kissinger said the poaching of elk is an ongoing problem.
"We’ve been dealing with this issue for a number of years, but we haven’t been able to find a solution," he said. "We’ve caught people and charged people, and it just carries on."
Serious punishments don’t seem to be enough of a deterrent to poachers. According to Kissinger, one poacher who was caught after killing an elk calf was punished with a $10,000 fine, four-year suspension from hunting and the loss of his firearms.
The illegal hunting is a public safety issue and a risk to the long-term health of the elk population.
The elk, who stay in the area throughout the winter, don’t have ways to get away from humans, as logging roads have penetrated the vast majority of their territory.
"It’s such an easy thing to do, unfortunately," Kissinger said. "The elk are right there on the road."
The Conservation Officer Service is pleading with the public to report poachers. Because of the work it takes to kill and butcher an elk, it’s a hard crime to hide.
"We’re reaching out to the public," Kissinger said. "We hope there are some members of the public that know about this and have a conscience."
More than one person is almost certainly involved in each case, he added.
"These animals are so big, it’s not a single individual going out. It’s probably three or four people, and they’re probably travelling in multiple vehicles."
Kissinger expressed his agency’s gratitude to Wilderness Watch, an offshoot of the Valley Fish and Game Club that provides assistance by patrolling so-called "problem areas" to watch for poaching and other illegal activities. It was Wilderness Watch that first reported the slaying of the pregnant cow in March.
"They’ve been a big help to us," Kissinger said. "I can’t say enough about them. They volunteer to be the eyes and ears out there for a number of agencies."
Anyone with information about these or other poaching incidents should contact the Report All Poachers and Polluters line at 1-877-952-7277 or go online to www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/rapp/form. htm The BC Wildlife Federation pays rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to convictions.