Keep ‘em Connected: Homegrown Solutions to an International Problem
We all want to get where we’re going, safely. Animal strikes are a major road safety issue, and an expensive one. No one wants to experience an elk suddenly crashing through their windshield. Yet, each year at least 200 collisions with large mammals occur on Highway 3 between Hosmer, BC and the Alberta border, costing society $2.8 million annually in injuries and property damage. Further east near Rock Creek in Alberta, 38 collisions a year are reported. More go unreported.
Wildlife-vehicle collisions are also an environmental problem, one that goes beyond dead animals. When wildlife can’t cross roads, rails, or other barriers safely, their range becomes limited, and they potentially can’t access food, mates, or the habitat they need to survive.
Some of these iconic, wide-ranging animals live here in the Elk Valley. Grizzly bears and wolverine, elk and bighorn sheep are important parts of our community. Highway 3 is a major inter-provincial highway with a railway that prevents these large mammals from roaming the Rockies. Traffic on Highway 3 is up 24 percent in the past 10 years. Given this trend, Alberta just announced that they will expand the highway from two to four lanes to address traffic congestion for humans. More lanes mean more traffic volume. This will increase wildlife deaths and create a bigger barrier for wildlife who try to move across the road.
More than a decade ago, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) assembled a collaborative of conservationists and researchers, local community members, and industry to understand the effect of Highway 3 on wildlife and advance potential solutions.
Research confirms this highway is a critical barrier across the larger 3,200-km-long Yellowstone to Yukon region, blocking the movements of grizzly bear, wolverine and other wildlife. Failure to restore connectivity would mean the world’s most intact large mountain region would be essentially cut in half.
Just south of Highway 93 in the United States, there may only be about 300 wolverines left. This is not a viable long-term population that could disappear unless reconnected with wolverines to the north of the highway. Safe passage for wildlife matters for conserving the globally significant Yellowstone to Yukon region, as well as people driving to and from Fernie.
Since the creation of the Y2Y vision to connect and protect the region so that people and nature thrive, 117 wildlife underpasses and overpasses have been built, which is progress. The goal is for all busy roads safe for wildlife to cross and people to drive without crashes. More than 50 wildlife crossing structures and associated fencing are already re-establishing connectivity across the Trans-Canada Highway, and research shows they work. Collisions with elk and deer are down by 96 percent.
In 2019, a diverse group including the province, Ktunaxa First Nation, industry, scientists and non-profit organizations agreed to begin a multi-year project, Reconnecting the Rockies, to improve connectivity along Highway 3. At least 10 wildlife crossing structures and fencing are progressing, with similar efforts being discussed on the Alberta side. Success will be wildlife reconnected across Highway 3 and people driving safely with significantly less animal-vehicle collisions through this transportation corridor in Alberta and British Columbia, and ultimately all busy roads across the Yellowstone to Yukon region being safe and passable for wildlife and people.
To learn more about the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, visit y2y.net.