I’m prompted to write by the recent Bulletin article about the RCMP reminding us that “Elk have the right-of-way”. I have been commuting regularly between Kimberley and Cranbrook for the past ten years. Highway ungulate mortality is something we accept as being a reality in the Kootenay, however as the article pointed out, this year has been particularly hazardous for elk and motorists on Highway 95A.
As everyone is aware the favored corridors facilitating elk movement between the St. Mary’s River and the upland, and necessitating a highway crossing have been relatively predictable over the years but that has changed significantly over the past two years or so.
I am not a wildlife biologist but I believe a couple of factors are at play. A few years ago several kilometres of new elk fencing appeared on the north side of the highway. This has impeded historical elk movement, funneling them to non-traditional highway crossing locations. Unfortunately a few of these sites are at unsafe locations – sharp curves or hills with reduced sight lines for example – producing nasty surprises for motorists. I don’t question the landowner’s authority to build these fences but wonder whether there is, or should be some oversight as to the implications of altering elk movements in the big picture.
While changing elk movement patterns might be something we just have to accept I am more concerned that some people believe we need to feed these animals in the winter. I have heard biologists voice the opinion that it isn’t helpful, and while I don’t personally have the expertise to comment on that, I do see how this practice contributes to the highway mortality. In too many instances I have found piles of the feed concoctions deposited in close proximity to the highway. The notion that attracting ungulates to the highway can keep them safe is a bit of a contradiction.
Lastly, I hope the homeowner in the Porteous Road/Highway 95A area does not renew their campaign to feed the elk again this year. Already this winter I have seen elk congregate south of the highway in that area, which previously hadn’t been a traditional crossing spot. Continuing the practice of feeding them close to the highway will only increase the risk to motorists and elk.
My two cents, and thanks for the opportunity to vent….