About 200 years ago some 20,000 or more caribou wintered in the valleys just north of Kootenay Lake. In the area at the south end of Kootenay Lake, there were possibly 3 – 4 thousand caribou wintering in smaller groups in suitable locations around the Creston Valley. At that time the districts, now known as West Creston, Creston Flats, Huscroft, Lister, Canyon, Erickson, Creston, and Wynndel were all heavily treed providing suitable winter shelter. The size of the smaller caribou herds depended on the type and quantity of food available. Overlooks and natural clearings, often near water-ways, were occupied by local residents of the time, signified by scattered groups of teepees.
So the Creston and Lardeau Valleys certainly were not as they are seen today. Leading up to and during the pre and post 1920s land clearing in the Creston area was going ahead in earnest. Smoke from burning stumps and wet wood ascended for days and longer through the winter months. Farmers and land speculators were looking for prosperous times to come. The valley-bottom, the woodland ecosystem was forever changed, changed into a basically grassland/meadow habitat no longer suitable for larger, traditional wintering species. Animal and traditional people populations were replaced by inhabitants mainly of European descent. And, habitat alteration goes on, along with the valleys and right up to the mountain slopes. Species move on and die out and sometimes other species move in to take their place. Where have all the caribou gone, long time ago?
It is believed that white-tailed deer are not native to the Kootenays but moved into the area after forests were cleared, leaving a mosaic-like landscape of fields separated by pockets of forest The end result was a habitat that was ideal for white-tailed deer. As forests were cleared northward and westward, and trees were planted on the plains and prairies, white-tailed deer gradually moved from south-eastern North America to the north and west. It is believed that Blue Jays moved west from the East in a similar fashion and now inhabit the Pacific North West where they nest in treed areas.
Now, in the Central Kootenay, white-tailed deer, which are mainly valley-bottom residents, compete with mule deer in the valley wintering areas. In spring it seems that mule deer move further up mountain slopes while white-tailed deer keep more of the valley bottoms and pockets of cleared land.
Mountain valleys, have been and still are wintering areas for many species of wild animals and birds. The extent wildlife uses the Creston-Kootenay River Valley for wintering grounds is presently limited by competition with human habitation. Hence we have and can expect wildlife-people conflict. This can intensify as weather conditions, deepening snow for example, in woodlands and on mountain slopes make foraging more difficult for ungulates. Animals will close in on residential areas where there are browse and a greater degree of shelter. Deer may be seen prancing around at night on residential streets, or, loafing and feeding residential yards, and bobcat and cougar may look for pet food left out at night.
During winter animals and people both want the most beneficial area in which to survive and because valleys have traditionally been used by wildlife, in spite of human habitation, a few animals will continue to attempt to coexist with humans in residential areas, foraging on the grass around basement walls and on ornamental shrubs and fruit trees.