Fencing project for Highway 93 S going ahead
Thursday, May 31, 2012 06:00 am
A $5-million project to build a fence and wildlife underpass along a three-kilometre stretch of highway in Kootenay National Park to better protect wildlife is going ahead.
While Parks Canada has been forced to cut $29 million agency-wide across the country, officials say the fencing project has not been hit by federal government budget cuts.
They say $200,000 will be spent this year on such things as engineering, design work, and environmental assessment, while another $4.1 million is slated for construction next year.
“This money is not part of the budget; it’s part of a Parks Canada centrally-managed pool of funds used to address ecological integrity across the country,” said Dave McDonough, superintendent of Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.
“We know highway mortality is a major issue in the mountain parks and a major issue in Kootenay and we’re committed to this and dedicating significant resources to this.”
The plan is to build a minimum of three kms of fencing and one or two wildlife underpass near the Dolly Varden area, about 35 kms from the south gate of Kootenay near Radium.
The project, initially announced by the federal government in 2009, was deferred by a year last year when Parks Canada reallocated funds to other ecological projects.
The $200,000 went towards various fire restoration projects in the mountain parks, as well as towards terrestrial ecosystem restoration in Waterton Lake National Parks.
“We’re back on schedule for this year,” McDonough said.
Back in the 1920s, cars were few and far between when the 104-km-long Kootenay Parkway was built as a scenic drive between Banff and Windermere, but these days it’s used by up to 5,000 vehicles a day on a typical summer day.
From 2001 to 2010, 494 animals were killed on the deadly stretch of highway in Kootenay, but many more are struck and either go unreported or are never found.
The most commonly killed animals are white-tailed deer, an important prey species for wolves and cougar. The road toll also includes wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, lynx and bighorn sheep.
Most recently, on May 21, a female wolverine was struck and killed near Marble Canyon. It was the second known wolverine to be hit on the highway in more than three decades.
Local conservationists welcome the news the important project is moving ahead, but say fencing and underpasses must go hand in hand with rigorous speeding enforcement.
“I think it’s positive news at a time that there isn’t a whole lot,” said Mike McIvor, president of the Bow Valley Naturalists. “You hate to say every little bit helps, but it does. We will hope it has a positive effect in terms of reducing wildlife mortality.”
In 2008, Parks Canada contracted the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) to identify mitigation measures to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and provide safe crossing opportunities for wildlife.
The group recommended experimenting with animal detection systems, increased RCMP enforcement of speeding, alternative road striping and vegetation management on the right-of-way.
They also recommended 60 per cent of the highway inside the park boundaries be fenced to keep wildlife off the road, plus underpasses constructed to allow safe passage and maintain connectivity.
McIvor said he hopes the remainder of the project, as recommended by the WTI, goes ahead in the future.
“That’s a solid recommendation from a group that is a leader in the field of transportation planning to provide ecosystem protection and I think it should be taken very seriously,” McIvor said.
“While I think even that small amount will be a good start, we will just have to make sure that Parks Canada keeps it going because it’s a very important project.”