Conservation biologist Dale Paton and a team of wildlife experts were heading out to Hwy. 3 this summer when they got a call: not too far away, a car had just hit a mule deer.
The conservation officer in the group rushed off to assist. The car’s driver and his wife had been on their way to Kelowna for a holiday, when a deer bounded into the road - so quickly that they couldn’t avoid it. The collision killed the deer and knocked out the car’s radiator. The car had to be towed. The wife had bruises from the passenger-side airbags.
Ironically, Paton’s group had been intending to examine a section of the highway where a high number of wildlife collisions occur, and discuss installing a fence to keep animals off the road.
“It was an unfortunate coincidence,” says Paton.
Paton is part of the Highway 3 Corridor Project, a joint undertaking of AMA, the Miistakis Institute, the University of Calgary and the non-profit Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. The project aims to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on Hwy. 3 (a.k.a the Crowsnest Highway). Every year there are around 200 wildlife-vehicle collisions along the route, which runs east from Hope, B.C., though the Rocky Mountains to Medicine Hat, Alta. - cutting across the seasonal range of lynxes, wolves, badgers, bears, cougars, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Around 7,500 vehicles travel the highway daily.
The project has pinpointed six high-collision sites where it proposes that the government install animal overpasses, underpasses, fencing and sensors - among other measures - as part of a planned twinning of the highway. The team is also working on short-term improvements, such as better wildlife signage at Rock Creek and roadside fencing near Crowsnest Lake, where bighorn sheep often come in search of salt. A campaign to educate drivers about wildlife collisions is in the works.
One of the project’s biggest achievements to date, says Paton, is a cost-benefit model that proves, without a doubt, that the societal cost of wildlife-vehicle collisions is higher than the price of preventative measures. The model may ultimately be used in other parts of the country - or even the world.
At home, it shows potential for big savings: wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Albertans more than $250 million each year. The cost per collision can range from $6,000 to $30,000, depending on the animal and factoring in towing, cleanup, repairs, ambulance costs and insurance deductibles. Not to mention injuries, loss of work, trauma and stress for drivers and passengers - who deserve to feel safe driving Alberta’s highways.
Get Involved Did you see an animal crossing Hwy. 3? At rockies.ca/roadwatch, drivers can use an interactive mapping tool to record wildlife sightings in the Crowsnest Pass. Alternatively, visit the Road Watch in the Pass Facebook page and make a comment, or contact program coordinator Rob Schaufele at 403-564-5154. The Highway 3 Corridor Project uses Road Watch data to identify wildlife-crossing areas.
How You Can Help Prevent Wildlife Collisions
- Slow down. Speeding extends your vehicle’s stopping distance and leaves you less time to steer around an animal.
- Watch for road signs that warn of wildlife activity and use extra caution in those areas.
- Limit travel at dawn and dusk, when animals are most active.
- Expect to see wildlife where creeks intersect roads, and on long stretches of road through field or forest - prime habitat zones.
- At night, look out for glowing eyes on or beside the road. Headlights and roadside reflectors that appear to flicker in the distance might also signal the presence of wildlife on the road.
Click here for more tips.