I recently returned from a gathering on Kwanlinn Dün First Nation territory in Whitehorse, YT, for the Thinhorn Sheep Summit III (May 3-5, 2022). The event was attended and hosted by some of the most passionate and knowledgeable folks on Thinhorn sheep from across Alaska, YT, NWT, and BC. Guide outfitters, management biologists, research biologists, policy makers, wildlife veterinarians, First Nations, graduate students, conservation organization representatives, and local residents created a crowd of over 100 people, all gathered to tackle big questions: how are Thinhorns doing and what do we need to ensure they stay on the mountain in the future? Topics ranged from population estimates/survey methods, to disease, to hunting/regulations, to access management, to habitat concerns/climate change, to predator management, and to much needed Indigenous perspectives.
This event is hosted every three years by the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF), who's purpose as an international, non-government organization is to "put and and keep wild sheep on the mountain". With substantial support from various guide-outfitters associations, government, and other non-government organizations, the event was absolutely remarkable. For a great description of the purpose of the event with Kevin Hurley of the WSF, check out episode 73 of the Talk is Sheep podcast by the Wild Sheep Society of BC!
Now, I need you to understand that I am not exaggerating when I say the two and half day agenda was absolutely PACKED. For example, on Wednesday: after a hearty breakfast at 7:00am, we were in talks and discussions straight through to lunch, then it was right back into the heat until adjourning at 5:00pm. After a quick break, we had our share of fun with happy-hour and a banquet dinner, followed by two more awesome presentations. The first by Dave & Teena Dickson of Dickson Outfitters on the old-days of guiding in the Yukon, the second, a special screening of the Wild Sheep Society of BC's new film, Transmission. I can't thank these folks enough for sharing their stories - it was just awesome. With the open bar running the whole evening, I can say it was a late night packing into my hotel room, but wow was it ever a great time!
A highlight for me over the whole event was hearing from elder Ron Chambers of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. He shared stories of his experiences on the land and what sheep mean to his Nation, and even shared art and tools made from sheep horn. It was a humbling pleasure to learn from Ron, and I thank him sincerely for sharing his stories and language with this group. Another highlight was hearing from my friend and colleague, Hunter Lampreau. Hunter spoke about what BC is doing for wildlife and habitat management, and how Indigenous Perspectives are guiding the work. I never tire of hearing Hunter speak, and his talk provided a powerful, important perspective that was unique to the other biology & management focused talks.
I'm fairly new to the sheep world, so I certainly learned a lot about all things sheep. However, I think what I walked away with, that was even more valuable than this knowledge, was relationships and connections. I met new and old friends, was able to meet folks in person whose work I've been following for the past year, and made connections across all jurisdictions and expertise. I can not wait to share some of the exciting things coming out of this conference - stay tuned for more news in the very near future!
These organizations and the fantastic work they do would not be possible without their members, donors, and hunters - please consider joining a conservation organization who's mission speaks to you (often a membership comes with prize draws you won't want to miss), or stop into their online shops and grab some awesome gear! I also recommend signing up for newsletters and following on social media to stay in touch with the organization's work and get involved in volunteering. Here are just a couple that support wild sheep conservation:
Thank you so much to the summit organizers and attendees. This event was not only productive for Thinhorn sheep conservation and extremely educational for attendees, but it was also just a seriously good time. Thank you!
Until next time friends,