Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association annual sheep count shows populations holding steady. (File photo)

Vaseux Lake count shows sheep population holding steady

Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association 70th annual sheep count shows steady numbers

For most people counting sheep for five hours sounds like a sleepless night, but for members of the Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association it’s a yearly routine.

The group wasn’t out on the trails around Vaseux Lake battling insomnia Sunday, but rather spent the day climbing hills and checking forest service roads on the lookout for California Big Horn Sheep.

“It was the 70th annual sheep count,” said Lee Clarke, one of the annual count’s organizers. “It’s (the sheep count) kind of unique to this area. To have sheep and a population that has been monitored and looked after by this group for so long, it’s just kind of a tradition.”

Related: Devastating disease put South Okanagan-Similkameen Bighorn sheep at risk

Ninety-seven California Big Horn Sheep (23 rams, 57 ewes, and 17 lambs) were counted, which Clarke called average.

The group also took note of 66 Mule Deer (64 does, one buck, one fawn) and three coyotes.

He said members were happy to find out population numbers were similar to recent years, noting about 20 years ago the group were the first to identify a problem with the sheep population in the area.

“About 20 years ago there was a major die-off because of pneumonia. It was the sheep count that brought that to the attention of biologist because the club wasn’t seeing the numbers out there,” he said.

Clarke said the count is possible because sheep winter at lower elevations and in groups.

Cold wasn’t a deterrent for the dedicated group.

“We go out in the morning between 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. and everyone was back in the clubhouse by 1:30 p.m. So we were out there five hours or so. It was cold standing outside in the morning, but as soon as we got up that first hill we started to sweat.”

The annual count is open to anyone who wants to be involved and is held the second Sunday of February. Contact the Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association for more details.

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