By Paul Colangelo, International League of Conservation Photographers
Among the mountainous folds of remote northwestern British Columbia lies Todagin Mountain, a grassy plateau 15 miles long and five miles wide that is thought to have the highest density of Stone’s sheep in the world. The herd lives year-round on the plateau and slopes of Todagin, which has been the sheep’s habitat since the local Tahltan people can remember.
A close relative of Dall’s sheep to the north, Stone’s sheep is a thinhorn mountain sheep that occurs only in northern British Columbia and Yukon. The Todagin herd in particular is an important population to the Tahltan First Nation and bow hunters, who travel from around the world and pay upwards of $35,000 to hunt a ram.
Recognizing the value of the herd, the BC government protected its winter range via the creation of the Todagin South Slope Provincial Park in 2001. Nine years later, however, it has issued resource exploration permits for nearly the entire plateau, encompassing the herd’s spring, summer and fall ranges. If this tenure is mined, the herd could lose the majority of its habitat and be forced off the only home it has known.
I teamed up with the Chief Scientist at Global Wildlife Conservation, Dr. Wes Sechrest, to launch a project that addresses the gaps in knowledge regarding the herd’s habitat use patterns and a lack of public awareness of the herd and the land-use plans for Todagin.
Over 2011 and 2012, I’ve camped on Todagin with the herd for five months to tell the story of the herd and document its habitat use, using specialized camera equipment to record the movements of the sheep across the plateau. This information will be plotted onto a map along with the mining activity and tenures — a map that should make obvious, at a single glance, the land-use conflict threatening the Stone’s sheep.