Bronze Sculpture Capital of Canada
Public Art in Princeton
In this tour we'll take a look at the bronze sculptures recently installed around downtown Princeton as part of the town's beautification plan. We'll learn about some of the animals you can find in the Princeton District.
This project is a partnership with the Town of Princeton and the Princeton & District Museum and Archives.
Next to moose, elk are the largest members of the deer family. Adult bulls stand about 140 cm high at the shoulder and weigh between 265 to 410 kg—about the weight of a large Arabian horse, although they are shorter in stature. Female elk, or cows, are smaller, standing about 130 cm high and weighing between 190 to 270 kg. British Columbia is home to two subspecies of elk: the Roosevelt elk, which populate Vancouver Island and small areas of coastal BC, and the rocky mountain elk, whose range spans the southern interior of BC and the Kootenays. These are the elk commonly spotted around Princeton. During mating season in early autumn, males seek out groups of females and become quite aggressive towards other males. To intimidate rival bulls, male elk will often use a loud dramatic vocal display known as a bugle. This starts as a low roar deep in the chest, then transitions into a high bugling sound, before ending in a series of grunts. Sometimes during this time of year, it is possible to hear a bellowing chorus of elk bugles echoing through a mountain valley. Males will also fight during this season, and these physical displays sometimes end with one male goring the other with his antlers. Elk are intelligent and highly adaptable animals, subsisting in different ecological zones, sometimes becoming nocturnal in response to human activities, and even occasionally raiding alfalfa farms and hay bales for food. Thanks in part to conservation efforts, elk populations in BC are doing well, with several transplanted elk producing new herds. Efforts to consider the needs of elk populations in agriculture and forestry practices help to support healthy populations. While elk aren't as numerous in the Similkameen as they are in the Rockies, they still make their presence known. At certain times of the year, it is not uncommon to see elk feeding in fields on the edge of town.
Today, BC has around 170,000 moose, with about 70% of these concentrated in Northern BC and the remainder found in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, Thompson-Okanagan, and Kootenay region. Part of the reason moose enjoy such a large range is that their long legs allow them to move easily through deep snow, which is a challenge for their smaller relatives such as elk and deer. Historically, in many parts of BC, moose were a vital resource for First Nations peoples. Their meat was an important food resource, their hide was used for clothing, footwear, and shelter, and their bones and antlers were made into tools. Today, moose are still important to First Nations communities, and are also one of the provinces leading game animals. Around 8000 to 14,000 moose are harvested yearly, and the revenue generated by the sale of hunting licences is frequently routed into management of moose populations, habitat enhancement, and enforcement programs.
3. The Mountain Man
Surrounded by mountains, in the heart of ranch country, "no community in BC relied so heavily on the horse as did Princeton. Cut off from the Coast by the impenetrable Hope mountain range, the slowness of the construction of the highway to Hope, and the ruggedness of the area, the horse had a tremendous advantage over any other means of travel." The terrain of the area could be challenging for coaches and wagons, but a single rider on horseback could traverse the treacherous rock bluffs around the young settlement. Several locals reared horses for various purposes. Bill Garrison raised them for freighting and transportation, Luke Gibson raised racehorses, and Jack Budd raised horses for both the outlaw Bill Miner and the RCMP desperate to catch him. Horses also played a significant role in logging, as they transported loggers into the backcountry and helped drag logs out of the forest. Horses were used in this area for logging until 1960, when more modern methods were adopted.
While the grizzly and the black bear are BC's biggest predators, it is often cougars that strike fear into the hearts of hikers and campers. Cougars are impressive predators, able to sprint 56 kilometers per hour, launch themselves forward over gaps nine meters long, and leap as high as 5.5 meters above the ground, but they actually pose little threat to humans. Conflicts between humans and cougars are exceedingly rare. In the last 100 years, only five people have died from cougar attacks in BC. While cougars will eat anything from beavers to rodents to fish, and even occasionally animals that are several times their own body weight, such as moose, their primary prey is deer. Cougars are a keystone species, which means they are a species which has a disproportionately large impact on its environment relative to its abundance. Cougars help manage the numbers of prey species, especially deer, and therefore have a huge impact on the plant species that can be decimated by the grazing of uncontrolled deer populations. In BC and western Canada, cougars are not a species-at-risk. While cougars in eastern Canada and the United States are virtually gone due to loss of habitat, their population in the west remains stable. Human activity is the biggest threat to cougars, along with many other species, as population growth increasingly infringes on cougar habitats.
Wolves hold a special place in folklore and the popular imagination, demonized in tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Peter and the Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs. Many of these tales originated in a time when the threat of a wolf attack was very real, and when livestock, more than people, were frequently threatened by wolves. In British Columbia, these same fears led to mass poisoning and culling of wolves in the early 20th Century. Many settlers in the area established farms and ranches, gathering livestock into small areas where they were easy prey for wolves. Despite the impact these actions had on wolf populations, today wolves have bounced back and are now no longer an "at risk" species. However, BC's relationship with wolves is still complicated. While wolf populations are stable, several herds of BC's mountain caribou, the emblematic animal of the north that graces the Canadian quarter, are on the brink of extinction. To help save the caribou, the BC government funds wolf culls every year to ease the predation of already stressed caribou populations. In the winter of 2019-2020, 463 wolves were killed, costing the province $2 million. These culls are highly controversial, and many animal rights groups call for an end to the culls. But the solution isn't that simple. The main threat to caribou isn't wolves, but logging and industrial development, which is destroying old-growth habitat. Wolf culls temporarily alleviate some of the stress on caribou populations, but biologists predict that in order for wolf culls to be truly effective, 70-90% of the wolves in endangered caribou habitats would need to be killed every year over a period of decades.1 Even if these measures were taken, many caribou herds are on the brink of extinction and could die out anyways. The issue is complicated, and while the province is undertaking several other measures to save the caribou, including habitat restoration, wolf culls are the quickest band-aid for a problem that cannot be solved overnight: the loss of old growth forests. Wolf culls may be having another interesting effect for residents of the Okanagan. In the last decade, hunters and residents of the Okanagan have reported more wolf sightings than in previous decades. Some scientists and members of the BC Wildlife Federation believe that as wolf packs are being fractured by culls in northern BC and the Kootenays, wolves are wandering farther to establish new packs. This could be leading to an increase in the numbers of wolves in the Okanagan.2
Red foxes are nocturnal, and are at their most active around dusk and dawn, but it's not uncommon to spot them during the day. Their sharp sight, smell and hearing make them formidable hunters, and they have one other advantage that is rare among mammals. Red foxes can hear low-frequency sounds, which help them hear prey underground, and gives them an advantage over the rodents that make up most of their diet. Despite their reliance on rodents, red foxes have also developed a taste for white meat. Farmers often come into conflict with foxes when they catch the small predators invading their hen houses. Chubby domesticated chickens kept in enclosures make an attractive meal for foxes devious enough to break into coops. Many articles tackle the topic of how farmers can keep their chickens secure from these thieves. Measures include making sure chickens are locked securely in a coop at night, erecting six-foot-high fences that stretch a ways underground to prevent digging underneath, and frequent checks of fencing for holes or weak points. Foxes are clever enough to study a coop for days before a raid, looking for any weak points that will allow them to capture a juicy chicken.
7. Black Bears
Numerous, hungry, and naturally curious, bears frequently come into contact with humans on hiking trails, recreation sites, in the backcountry, and even in town. In 2011, the conservation office was flooded with calls after several witnesses spotted a black bear in the back of a dump truck as it drove through downtown Vancouver, which must have been a shock to many on their morning commute.1 Bears have to eat large quantities of food to sustain their body weight during the winter months, and their search for food often brings them into conflict with humans. When encounters with bears go badly, it is often in areas where the animals have become accustomed to humans and have learned to associate people with food. On hiking trails and in the backcountry, people are strongly advised to be responsible with garbage, to store food in bear bins or high up in trees away from campsites, and to not feed bears. Bears who learn to associate humans and human settlements with food often become unafraid of humans, and sometimes even aggressive or territorial. Once bears adopt this behaviour, it can't be unlearned, and garbage-addicted bears are often euthanized by conservation officers for public safety. In Penticton, bear sightings aren't unusual near town. In the spring of 2020, residents were stunned by a rare sighting: a black bear followed closely by her five cubs. A black bear litter can reach up to six, but it is unusual for a bear to have more than two or three cubs.
In BC, bald eagles are known as a conservation success story. Despite a sharp decline in the 20th Century from hunting and pesticides such as DDT, bald eagles have now recovered from their endangered species status and are a common sight across the province. While bald eagles are more common, BC is also home to the golden eagle. Golden eagles are incredible hunters. Unlike bald eagles, golden eagles prefer terrestrial prey, generally hunting small mammals such as marmots, ground squirrels, and rabbits, although they have been known to take on much larger prey. Golden eagles will sometimes hunt mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, and even coyotes. While golden eagles exist across the province, they do so in much sparser distribution than the bald eagle and prefer grassy, mountainous habitats. The South Okanagan is one of the areas of the province where they nest, along with the Kootenays and the middle Fraser River.
1. Sarah Cox, "The complicated tale of why BC paid $2 million to shoot wolves in endangered caribou habitat this winter," The Narhwal, April 25, 2020. Online
2. Carli Berry, "Wolf cull could have repercussions in the Okanagan" Keremos Review, December 28, 2018. Online.