Reconnecting the Rockies
If you drive enough on a provincial highway, it seems inevitable you will collide with an animal some day. And it seems everyone has a story of a near-miss, or a collision, with wildlife while driving at high speeds. Animals killed in collisions at the side of the road are commonplace along our highways.
But what if it wasn’t inevitable? A group of scientists, environmental organizations, First Nations, citizen scientists, and government officials set out to find an answer to this question in the southeast corner of BC, in a region known as the Elk Valley.
“The Elk Valley is the heart of a critical wildlife corridor that connects animals across borders and mountain ranges,” explains Dr. Clayton Lamb, a leading scientist at the forefront of wildlife connectivity in the region.
Unfortunately, a major inter-provincial highway and rail line tear right through the midst of wildlife on the move through the Rockies. Traffic on the Elk Valley’s Highway 3, which connects Alberta to BC, is up 24% in the past 10 years and increasing use by transport trucks amplifies the lethal nature of this route.
In this valley, reports Dr. Lamb, vehicle collisions cause 25% of elk mortalities and 30% of grizzly bear mortalities. Over 60% of BC’s reported grizzly bear collisions occur in southeast BC, despite this area making up only 3% of the provinces’ grizzly bear range.
Through years of research, a group of like-minded organizations gathered hard data on where the problems in this valley are and what changes would be most effective to reduce the number of wildlife / vehicle collisions. In 2010, a report (Highway 3 Transportation Mitigation for Wildlife and Connectivity in Elk Valley) explored solutions to reduce wildlife mortality along this deadly stretch of highway. An update to this report was completed in 2019 by partners Wildsight, Miistakis Institute, and Yellowstone to Yukon.
Randal Macnair, Wildsight Conservation Coordinator in the Elk Valley, reflects that the years of hard work on this project are starting to pay off.
“This report is beginning to pay dividends. Through an analysis of years of research and data including provincial highway statistics and a citizen science program, the highest risk sections to wildlife and humans were identified, and potential solutions recommended,” Macnair explains.
Even before the updated report was released last year, the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure began using the results to plan ahead in the East Kootenay, including animal crossing structures and fencing similar to that seen on other stretches of highway in BC and Alberta. Two of the report’s proposed projects are in the works for 2020. The projects (Lizard Creek Bridge south of Fernie, and the Jaffray passing lane), are setting the course for a new way to build roads in the East Kootenay.
“Highway 3 has been on Yellowstone to Yukon’s radar for almost 20 years now because it fractures wildlife connectivity at a continental scale,” says Candace Batycki of Yellowstone to Yukon. “It has taken almost 15 years of dedicated efforts by many partners to get to where we are today, but everything is finally falling into place for real infrastructure-based solutions, and we are very happy with the results.”
Tracy Lee, Miistakis Institute senior project manager, agrees with that sentiment.
“This project has been designed to address both human and wildlife safety by reducing risk of animal / vehicle collision while reconnecting lands across Highway 3 for all species,” says Lee.
The results of the 2019 report were compiled into a visually appealing infographic, designed to easily see the problems, and proposed solutions for vehicles and wildlife crossing paths along Highway 3.
“Summarizing years’ worth of data on a single page, the infographic brings into sharp focus the way forward that considers wildlife protections for highway infrastructure,” says Macnair.
For more information and to look at the Highway 3 report, visit www.roadwatchbc.ca.
Photo Credit: Mark Gocke