Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park

History

First Nations History: Written records of the area’s cultural history are minimal. However, evidence suggests that First Nations People camped along the Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers since time immemorial. This archaeological evidence includes cultural depressions from pithouse villages (kekuli) and surface evidence of stone tool debris. The primary groups that used the area in and surrounding the Junction Sheep Range were the Secwepemc (Shuswap), and the Ts’ilqot’in (Chilcotin). The Chilcotin are an Athapaskan speaking Nation while the Shuswap are a Salishan speaking Nation; both are further divided into tribal divisions and bands. These divisions occupied distinct areas along the Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers, and some Shuswap and Chilcotin divisions were mutual trading partners, sharing winter villages and fishing sites. It is also suggested that First Nations Peoples of the Junction area had acquired horses in the latter part of the eighteenth century prior to the arrival of the first white fur traders.

Settlement History: The Chilcotin Region began its history of agricultural settlements just as the Cariboo Gold Rush was waning in the 1860s. Two of the earliest ranches in this area were the Cotton and Deer Park Ranches, now amalgamated as Riske Creek Ranching. Settlement followed the accessible bunchgrass ranges along the terraces of the Chilcotin River between 1873 and 1893, and ranges have been used for livestock grazing since 1873. There is also historical evidence of mining in the area; remnants of old Chinese placer mining activities have been found at the confluence of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers. In 1973, a 4,573 hectare Wildlife Reserve, managed by the Fish and Wildlife Branch, was established to protect the bighorn sheep and their natural grassland habitat. This reserve was designated as the Junction Wildlife Management Area in 1987, and was designated a provincial park in 1995.

Cultural Heritage

Conservation

The Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park protects a diverse landscape ranging from rolling grasslands and river valleys to impressive erosional features such as cliffs and hoodoos. The park contains some of the most natural grasslands in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, providing critical habitat for a number of rare and endangered species. In the park alone, there are 12 blue-listed bird, reptile and mammal species. Grasslands account for less than 1% of BC, yet have some of the highest diversity of plant and animal species at risk. The grasslands within the park are nationally significant because they have not been grazed by cattle since 1986. Grassland plants are highly sensitive to weed invasions; weeds introduced on the vehicle undercarriage for example, may seriously threaten grassland habitat. Fire control in grassland areas permits tree encroachment into grasslands, another serious habitat threat. A burning program is soon to be initiated in the park in order to reduce encroachment, and renew the older bunchgrass that sheep find unpalatable.

Some of the rare and endangered species found in the natural grasslands of the Cariboo-Chilcotin are barely visible to the naked eye; some are even microscopic. The species that occupy the ground space between bunchgrasses are extremely vulnerable to pollution and disturbance from trampling. These lichens and mosses form a cohesive crust called the cyptogamic crust and though tiny, perform numerous functions important to the ecosystem as a whole.

The park features a number of unique ecosystems and distinct landscape features, each closely related to the area's diverse wildlife. Grasslands dominate, though pockets of Douglas-fir on moist areas and hilltops provide habitat for black bear and mule deer. Steep, rugged cliffs of lava, limestone, and clay contrast sharply with the rolling grasslands.

Most notably, the area protects critical breeding, lambing, and winter range of the largest population of non-migratory California bighorn sheep in the world, a blue-listed species. Approximately 500 bighorn sheep live in the area, feeding on bunchgrass and other low growing plants, and finding refuge from predators in the steep breaks at the edges of grassland benches. In the past, the Junction California bighorn sheep have also provided a source of sheep for transplants to other areas of North America where the sheep had been extirpated.

Wildlife

The diverse landscape of the Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park supports a diversity of wildlife. Many plants and animals exist at the northernmost limit of their distribution and are, therefore, regionally significant. Several vulnerable and threatened species are found within the park, including the California bighorn sheep, prairie falcon, upland sandpiper, rubber boa, and long-billed curlew. Other species found in the area include cougar, black bear, mule deer, grouse, and owls. Large mammals primarily utilize patches of Douglas-fir and forest/grassland edge habitat.