Wildlife collisions are a risk that commuters face everyday in British Columbia, particularly in more rural areas like the Kootenays. Too often, we are confronted with the sight of dead animals along our highways, not to mention the toll these collisions can have on people and their vehicles. Fortunately, many steps are being taken to help reduce wildlife collisions in British Columbia.
The statistics related to wildlife collisions in B.C. are sobering. In 2001, a program called the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (www.wildlifecollisions.ca) was created by ICBC and the B.C. Conservation Foundation to track wildlife collisions and to try and reduce the number and severity of them. According to the program, annually there are three human fatalities, 570 injured motorists, and 6100 animals killed. It is estimated another 18,300 wildlife casualties go unreported, and the Ministry of Transportation (MoT) budgets an estimated $700,000 towards highway clean-up. The statistics reveal that between the years of 1988 and 2007, 93,853 animals were reported killed by motorists, which the B.C. MoT states is only 25 to 35 per cent of the actual number of deaths. About 80 per cent of all these collisions involve deer.
Between three major regions of BC (Southern Coast, Southern Interior, and the North), 55 per cent of wildlife collisions occur in the Southern Interior, many of which are right here in the Kootenays.
From the standpoint of economics, wildlife itself is valued at over $450 million dollars annually. In addition, recreational wildlife viewing equates to over $390 million dollars per year, and additionally, the value of hunting adds $40 million dollars per year to the economy. A cost that cannot be calculated is the value and significance of all living things.
Fortunately, reducing the number and severity of wildlife vehicle collisions is something that seems to resonate with many people. Great efforts have been undertaken, some large in scale, some small. An example of large-scale projects are overpasses and underpasses for wildlife.
A major conservation initiative, the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative (y2y.net), has a detailed description of one of these projects currently underway in the Elk Valley. They have helped to bring stakeholders together and advocated for projects like the new wildlife crossings being built. Studies have shown these structures to be highly effective in reducing wildlife collisions (and associated costs) in some locations. A number of these structures have been working for many years on Highway 1 through Banff.
Not all projects need to be large-scale to be highly effective, however. Initiatives like the aforementioned Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (WCPP) have made real strides towards making our roads and highways safer for humans and animals alike. They have used the media for awareness campaigns, created signage, created driver education programs and supported research towards reducing wildlife collisions, amongst many other initiatives. In this region, the WCPP has created radio advertisements and created large billboards calling attention to areas of high risk for collisions.
Citizen science programs have also been undertaken, such as the RoadWatchBC program (www.roadwatchbc.ca). With the help of the public, road sections with high wildlife activity have been identified, providing data which has been used to help improve highway planning and safety.
Finally, it is important to note that every individual can make a difference towards reducing wildlife collisions. Defensive driving, being aware of high-risk wildlife areas in your daily commute and reducing speed are three ways that anyone can do to help protect themselves, others, and wildlife.
James Franssen and Josip Stimac are second year Recreation Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar