Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park
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.
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
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.
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.