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Conservation group Wildsight looks for solutions to save Radium bighorn sheep

Another four sheep were killed by vehicles last week
Sheep on the One Mile Hill in Radium January 22, 2022. Pat Morrow file

The conservation group Wildsight is pointing out four additional bighorn sheep deaths near Radium Hot Springs over five days last week.

“This is the latest in a spate of deaths decimating the Radium bighorn sheep herd that saw an additional 13 highway mortalities in 2021,” Said John Bergenske, Wildsight’s Conservation Director. “Last week there were collisions on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — each resulting in a dead ram. Then on Friday a ewe was killed.”

READ: Radium collisions causing dwindling bighorn sheep population; overpass urged by expert

Bergenske says immediate action is required, and although efforts are underway to perhaps see fencing and an overpass built, that will not happen soon enough.

“The One Mile Hill leading into Radium Hot Springs has long been known as a dangerous spot for both motorists and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. This stretch of highway is the gateway to the Columbia Valley which sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends and tourist-heavy seasons. The problem has been exacerbated by the prolonged closures of Highway 1, which forces traffic to detour through Radium. This highway also carries heavy trucks, particularly logging and chip trucks, up and down the valley.”

Bergenske says that immediate action should include getting rid of the passing lane on the hill and reducing the 90 kph speed limit. That will require an order by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“MOTI needs to take action to protect bighorn sheep and motorists while sheep are near the highway. Most collisions occur in a three kilometre-strip of the hill which has a passing lane and 90 km speed limit — clearly proven to be a recipe for disaster. MOTI has thus far refused calls to reduce speeds and close the passing lane. The existing warning signs have proved ineffective. Reduced speeds that are enforced, along with active signage that warns travelers when they are not slowing down could certainly make a difference in dealing with the present carnage.”

Columbia River - Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok is part of the working group looking at the construction of an overpass, however he said last January that work on an overpass is still in the beginning stages.

READ: MLA Clovechok continues to work on reducing mortality rate of big horn sheep in Radium

Clovechok says he respects Bergenske’s thoughts on the matter but something as simple as reducing the speed limit and taking out a passing lane is not the answer.

“There is no silver bullet,” he said. “There is real science behind speed limits.”

He says One Mile Hill can get very congested and when there are sheep on the road, some cars slow down, others don’t. Taking out the passing lane could create even more havoc, he says, because people will pass on a double line.

“It’s easy to say it will fix it,” he said.

Clovechok says MOTI has been putting real money into engineering work on an overpass, but the ultimate cost could be four to five million dollars.

“An awful lot of work has been done on this in the past two years, people are working hard on it. There is no magic bullet. But we do have to find ways to protect these sheep.”

“Radium welcomes visitors into its community with an impressive $300,000 public art sculpture paying tribute to the bighorn sheep,” Bergenske said. “The irony is not lost that, mere metres from this exhibit, sheep are meeting their demise from those very drivers. A few minutes’ delay in arrival is a small price to pay to protect both motorists and the sheep who are this community’s icon.

“There is no excuse for MOTI not to be treating this section of highway the same way as they do an active construction zone whenever sheep are present in the area. A lack of action is inviting the next accident to happen, and it may not be just sheep that are the victims.”

Black Press reached out to the Ministry of Transport but as yet, has not received a response.

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Carolyn Grant

About the Author: Carolyn Grant

I have been with the Kimberley Bulletin since 2001 and have enjoyed every moment of it.
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