Travellers along Highway 93/95 in the B.C. Kootenays are part of the solution when it comes to reducing big horn sheep mortality on the Radium Hill.
“I can now confirm that the speed will be reduced this fall from 90km to 70 km from the top of One Mile Hill past the pullouts to the 60 km in Radium.” said Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok in a press release.
The sheep are currently in higher elevation grazing areas and typically are not near the highway during the summer.
Much of the lobbying for the reduced speed limit came from the conservation group Wildsight which began calling for the speed to be reduced last February. Wildsight had also asked for the closure of the passing lane on the hill, but a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson indicated that was not on the table.
“We’re extremely happy to see the speed reduced in the fall when the sheep will be back down,” said John Bergenske of Wildsight. “But there is still work to be done on the overpass.”
That overpass, similar to those in Banff National Park which were put in place primarily to keep elk off the highway, would work for sheep as well, advocates say.
A lot of work on the overpass has been done by various advocates, including Clovechok, Mayor Clara Reinhardt, RDEK Director Gerry Wilkie, Kent Kebe, and the Windermere Rod and Gun Club and others, who formed a working group to look at sheep mortalities. Some funding was secured for the upcoming budget year for a study and report on the overpass. Meetings have been held with MOTI, Parks Canada and more.
However, Bergenske says he needs to see a commitment to funding the full project from the province and the federal government as well.
“Reducing the speed is a stop gap. It’s helpful, but we really do need the overpass funding in place,” he said.
Bergenske says he feels the federal government should step up as well because the sheep are right next to a national park, in fact much of their range is within the park.
“That’s the big announcement we are waiting for,” he said.
However, he does thank the people who wrote to MOTI to ask for the speed reduction.
“I want to thank the more than 1,300 of our supporters who wrote to the province on behalf of the bighorns,” said John Bergenske, Wildsight’s Conservation Director. “This is an important step. The Minister of Highways and Infrastructure, Rod Fleming, committed to taking action and prioritizing this issue when we met. The province has made steps. However, funding is yet to be fully committed by either the province or the federal government for the needed wildlife overpass and fencing.”
This is the result of months of effort by many, Bergenske says, including Radium resident Nicole Trigg who drew national media attention to the issue, other residents, the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap Band members as well as conservation groups, local politicians (MLA Doug Clovechok, Radium Hot Springs Mayor Clara Reinhardt, RDEK Area G Director Gerry Wilke), and provincial and municipal government staff who have all championed the need for action.
“Everyone deserves a pat on the back,” he said. “But we’re not done yet. Until the funding is in place and wildlife overpass construction is underway, everyone will have to keep speaking up for the Bighorn Sheep.”
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