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Wildlife biologist with ties to the Kootenays passes away at 81

A regional wildlife biologist who helped the local elk population recover in the 70s has passed away at 81 years old.

Ray DeMarchi worked in the region for over 25 years and made connections with a number of people, including hunters.

“He was there for all kinds of people who enjoyed our wildlife. Ray was special, he was one of a kind, actually,” said Carmen Purdy, Founder and Co-Chair of the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund.

One of DeMarchi’s major achievements as a wildlife biologist was his efforts to help the local elk recover.

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“He brought our elk population from really low numbers in the late 60s to about 75,000 elk by about 1985,” said Purdy.

DeMarchi’s work began in the early 70s and took several years of effort.

“He fed winter populations until about 1977, just to get a nucleus and an established herd just south of Skookumchuk. Prior to Ray coming here, we had very few elk south of Skookumchuk,” explained Purdy. “He was very focused on what his job was and nobody did it better.”

“He was able to manage a provincial resource here in the Kootenays that was second to none. It was often referred to as the Serengeti of North America, and it was because of Ray DeMarchi,” said Purdy.

Purdy said DeMarchi’s strategy brought back elk, deer and sheep populations to the region while managing for predators as well.

“He put grizzlies on a tag system. A grizzly bear hunt is worth $40,000 to $50,000 now and B.C. can just throw that away without a problem. We have more grizzlies now, we have them in the back yard, front yard, the schoolyard and busting into people’s homes. Ray would not have let that happen, he would have done something, he would have gone after the government with force.”

Purdy said DeMarchi faced opposition from some people, including government officials, but he was ultimately left alone.

DeMarchi eventually moved with his work, and Purdy said the local wildlife management strategy has declined since his departure.

“Our wildlife populations have crashed and continues to crash as long as we have this kind of management now. We had Ray here for a solid 25 plus years, then they moved him off to Victoria, from that time forward, we really haven’t had good game management.”

Ray DeMarchi passed away at 81 years old.

“We’re all going to miss him, and we’ll miss the likes of Ray DeMarchi. We don’t have them anymore, it seems to me. All we have to do is take a look at what he did versus what we have now and we can say Ray DeMarchi was a very effective, professional big game manager,” said Purdy.

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