Installing fences along Highway 3 could help save southwestern Alberta's wildlife, many of which die in collisions with vehicles each year, according to conservationists working to protect animals in the Crowsnest Pass.
Alberta's department of transportation is considering a proposal to build fences and a small underpass along the main highway running through the Pass, including at Crowsnest Lake and Rock Creek. The proposal, submitted to the government in late 2011 by team from the Miistakis Institute of the Rockies, the Western Transportation Institute and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, has been in the works for about seven years.
The plan aims to cut car crashes involving animals in the area by 80 per cent, and much of the data collected in support of the plan comes from Crowsnest Pass residents who reported road kill locations along the highway using an online mapping tool.
"It makes sense for everybody. I think it's a real win-win, because you're reducing the risk from a human safety perspective and people really value their wildlife down in that region -no one likes to hit them," said Tracy Lee, senior project manager with the Miistakis Institute.
An average of 8.5 collisions a year involving animals at Rock Creek costs the province about $56,000, Lee said, arguing that building a $1-million underpass there would save money over the proposed underpass' 20-year lifespan. It would also protect the moose, deer, elk, bears, cougars and bighorn sheep who now cross the highway, she said.
"We're a bit concerned about the bighorn sheep population at the lake," Lee said, explaining that some years, car crashes kill as much as 10 per cent of the local bighorn population.
The province is reviewing the potential environmental impact, costs and timelines associated with the project, according to Alberta Transportation spokesperson Nancy Beasley Hosker.
"We continue to work with the Miistakis Institute and other respected organizations on mitigating wildlife collisions. It's about creating safer roads for both the human traffic and the animal traffic," she said.
No deadline has been set for the government's review.
"It's a long way away from decision," she said.
Between 2001 to 2010, there were a total of 741 car crashes on Highway 3 from the British Columbia border to Burmis, Alta. About 57 per cent of those crashes - 426 - involved wildlife, according to the department.