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Experts explain wildlife fencing at Emerald Lakes

Wednesday, 17 May 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Experts explain wildlife fencing at Emerald Lakes
Greg Hale, a senior wildlife biologist, speaks about the impact the Emerald Lakes wildlife fencing has had on sheep.   Photo by Tyler Ryan

Experts explain wildlife fencing at Emerald Lakes

By Tyler Ryan

Researchers and area residents visited the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre last Thursday evening for an information session regarding the wildlife fencing that has been installed along Emerald Lake on Highway 3.

About 30 members of the public attended and were encouraged to provide input for future highway projects that will be designed to keep both wildlife and commuters safe.

Organized by Road Watch in the Pass, the Miistakis Institute and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, the evening had presentations by Rob Schaufele of Road Watch in the Pass and Greg Hale, a senior wildlife biologist. Thomas Vogelsang, an infrastructure engineer with Alberta Transportation, and Dale Paton, an ecological expert who works with Anatum Ecological Consulting, also presented.

In an interview prior to the information session, Rob said a big part of why this session was put together was to help educate people about the fencing along Highway 3, as well as address complaints that people had.

“There was a bit of negative feedback and most of it was because people don’t really understand how the fencing works and why it was put exactly where it was and some of the specifics of it,” he said.

Rob also said the wildlife fencing along Highway 3 is similar to the fencing in other areas, like Banff National Park. However, one of the biggest challenges is that there are stretches of land that may not be built on without permission from landowners.

“The big issue is that this isn’t a park and we can’t fence long lengths of roadway as easy as they can in the parks because there is private land and access roads and that kind of stuff,” said Rob.

“It’s a lot more difficult to do this type of project outside of the park setting.”

One of the biggest topics of the night revolved around the effectiveness of the fencing. Rob said the fencing location was chosen because many animals had been struck on that particular strip of highway and more sheep had been killed there, compared to the areas half a kilometre east and west.

According to all the presenters, evidence suggests the fencing has been working but further investigation is needed, given that the fencing was only completed in October 2016. Rob did say that since the fencing has been constructed, not a single sheep has been hit and killed in that particular area.

According to Greg, the senior wildlife biologist, about 350 to 400 sheep reside through the Crowsnest Pass and the Livingstone Range. In 2016, about 10 to 15 sheep were reported as struck and killed.

After Greg wrapped up his presentation, Thomas addressed the crowd. Speaking from the perspective of Alberta Transportation, Thomas gave a detailed presentation about the steps the provincial government took to get the fencing completed by October 2016.

According to documents provided by Thomas and the Government of Alberta, the project originally started in May 2010 with the Highway 3: Transportation Mitigation for Wildlife and Connectivity report.

A series of studies regarding Highway 3 were then conducted and Alberta Transportation began internal discussions regarding the project in July 2014. After Alberta Transportation provided both executive approval and funding approval in January 2015, design, consultations, and the awarding of contracts followed and by August 16, 2016, construction of the new fencing began.

On Sept. 8, 2016, the project went through a final inspection and was then finalized. Since October, the effectiveness of the fencing has been monitored.

According to Thomas, the process of building the new fencing faced some challenges along the way. In his presentation, he cited three major issues that needed to be addressed:

— Off-highway vehicle users and the loss of a known OHV trail.

— The jump-out heights for animals needed to be reworked because they originally caused animals to jump out at a distance higher than the two-metre drop required.

— Ongoing maintenance and operation of the fencing, including repairing damage caused by both animals and people.

Regarding the OHV issue, Thomas noted that even though it is unfortunate that a known path is now lost due to the construction of the fencing, the safety of the animals took precedence.

As for the the jump-out distance, there has been additional construction to ensure that the jump-outs are now adequate and will not cause injury to the animals. Thomas’s presentation included future projects that may be undertaken, such as additional or extended fencing near Emerald Lake, a fencing project along Highway 22, and Rock Creek Passage.

Dale Paton took the stage after Thomas. The bulk of his presentation covered future mitigation strategies, such as using an alternative to road salt during the winter, which would prevent sheep and other wildlife from coming too close to the highway and reduce the potential of getting struck.

Another strategy that was brought forth was to reduce the availability of grasses along the highways during the spring to further reduce the potential of sheep and other animals coming close to the highway in search of food.

A member of the audience asked Dale about the feasibility of setting up road signs along the route that would both reduce the speed limit and inform drivers about the potential for wildlife in the area.

Dale responded by saying that road signs lose their effectiveness after a period of time because people become less likely to pay attention to them or they may become complacent and ignore the signs altogether. He also cited cost as a factor.

In order to help make the roads safer, Rob said that people should consider joining up with Road Watch in the Pass, as well as partnering with Collision Count through the Miistakis Institute and tagging along with Rob and other volunteers on hikes through areas with future mitigation plans.

Collision Count, an app that can be downloaded onto a smartphone, allows volunteers to report roadkill and provide details such as where the animal was found, and to upload a photo if necessary.

According to information produced by Road Watch in the Pass, about 150 animals get hit every year and the cost of these accidents exceeds $1 million every year.

Read more in this week’s online edition here.
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From the May 17, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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