As do many things in life, the Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia (WSSOBC) began as just an idea. The California Bighorn sheep range in the Fraser River area of BC was in trouble.
With the sheep population growing and the range deteriorating, it seemed that a die-off was probable. Unless something was done, hunting opportunities for this species would be greatly reduced in the very near future. A small group of wild sheep enthusiasts decided to have a meeting to discuss if an organization could be set up to assist the Ministry of Environment in producing better habitat for the sheep. An executive committee was formed and in March 1992 we received our Society status from the government in Victoria. The Wild Sheep Society was born.
As is the case whenever a new organization starts with a limited amount of funding, membership was slow to increase. To attract new members, you have to have at the very least a newsletter to keep everyone informed. This requires funds, funds that become available from an increased membership. The growing pains were weathered and our membership slowly started to grow. It was quickly realized by the executive that to make the society successful, it would have to become a province wide organization concerned with the welfare of all four species of British Columbia sheep. Advertising brochures were created and printed, and the society began to set up displays at gun shows to attract new members.
I well remember the day I was driving through the town of Lillooet on my way deer hunting . I stopped to fill up with gas, and when I went to pay, I saw this brochure lying the counter. It was a membership form for the society. I remember reading the brochure while driving down the road and thinking that this was something that I had to be a part of. In hindsight, reading while driving wasn’t all that clever but I was reading about wild sheep. When I returned from the hunting trip I sent in the application form and sat back and waited. Before long a notice came that invited me to the annual general meeting that was being held in just a few months.
Along with 64 other wild sheep enthusiasts at this, our first annual general meeting, the most important thing talked about was whether we should become affiliated with the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS). Johnny Drift, then the first vice president of FNAWS outlined the advantages of being associated with them. This option was extensively discussed and the yes vote resulted in our becoming one of the latest FNAWS affiliates.
Our first major project occurred in 1994. The Wild Sheep Society had been working with the Ministry of Environment to coordinate and arrange funding for our first sheep transplant. A total of 23 California Bighorn sheep were captured along the Fraser River near Big Bar and transplanted by truck and train to Seton Lake in the beautiful Bridge River Valley near Lillooet. Wildlife Section Head Fred Harper of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (Kamloops Southern Interior Region), threw his considerable support behind the project. After this successful project there were many more to come.
Over the next few years our fundraising efforts improved dramatically. Hand in hand with this went our ability to fund more projects. The Wild Sheep Society of BC is now a rapidly growing, province wide organization of over 500 members. We are dedicated to increasing the number wild sheep on our mountains and in improving their habitat. Our membership provides both funding and manpower for the various projects that we do. Sheep transplants will always be the cornerstone of our efforts. They are a very effective way to move sheep onto once traditional habitat areas. The big question? Where is the future of WSSOBC. Our goal of putting more sheep onto our mountains certainly has to remain at the forefront.