Retired wildlife biologist Ralph Ritcey held the audience spellbound during Wells Gray Day at Trevor Goward’s home (Edgewood Blue) and the Thompson Rivers University education and research facility in Upper Clearwater on Sept. 10.
In 1950 Ritcey was employed by Parks Branch to study the moose and caribou in the Wells Gray Park.
“The head of parks at the time, Cy Olden, was a hunter and he wanted to see what animals were here. He had been up to the area and although he saw many moose droppings he didn’t spot any moose,” he said.
Ritcey told about walking all over the country and camping in 1952 on 52 Ridge. At that time park rangers lived in the area of their work all year round. He felt there was a place for hunting in the park as it helped to train the bears to respect men with guns.
In those days moose were not managed and wolves controlled the population. Fish and Game Branch was poisoning the wolves and that caused an unsatisfactory situation. The willows were being over-browsed and the moose population was unhealthy. In 1966 the first prescribed burning took place to keep the moose population healthy as the willows they feed on had a chance to spread.
Everything about a moose and its habitat was studied, from bites per minute and output of droppings to measuring the length of the twigs it was browsing on. These old records are now being word-processed and will be used as a base line to study the current moose situation. The researchers looked at the caribou situation and concluded that the devastating fire in 1926 had ruined most of the caribou’s food source. The lichens they eat grow on old growth trees and despite this knowledge logging companies in the area did not accept the findings. With great emotion showing on his face, Ritcey concluded his talk by saying, “For the moose we won one. For the caribou we didn’t.”
The afternoon continued with Mark Forsyth of CBC Radio interviewing Dr. Dick Cannings, a retired park naturalist, bird biologist and author, about what it was like for him to be a park naturalist many years ago. Cannings told many entertaining stories. He talked about the steady decline of services after the park naturalists were privatized in 1980. In 2000 BC Nature took the job on and a steady lack of funding has caused the program’s demise. He commented that it takes only “… a little bit of money to educate people about ecosystems and how to behave in the parks. There is lots of indication that people are indoors missing out on the world and children are suffering a nature deficit.” Naturalists would serve to reintroduce children to the world they live in.
After nature walks around the property a supper prepared under the guidance of Ellen Fergusson and Claire Ritcey and others was enjoyed in the recently refurbished Upper Clearwater Hall. Silent auction items were bid on. A movie called Of Moose and Men using 16mm film shot by Bob Miller in the 1960s and re-digitized by Bear in the Basement Studios showed stunning scenes of the way moose research was historically conducted.
The final presentation of the evening was a storytelling and power point talk about the history of the Secwepemc Nation. Ethnobiologist Dr. Marianne Ignace and Dr. Ron Ignace, chief of the Skeetchest’n Band, gave a presentation using both English and Shuswap to share connections of the past with the present and explain the First Nation’s perspective on a sense of place.
Bill Turner, executive director of The Land Conservancy of B.C. made a presentation to Edwina and John Kurta of a copy of the sign that will go up on the Kurta Wetlands.
The evening concluded with a few words from Trevor Goward and an acknowledgement of the work done by TLC regional director Barry Booth and others to ensure the day ran smoothly.
– Sandra Holmes