Southern Alberta project | Collision data help identify problem areas and pressure government to build more wildlife underpasses
It seems like they come out of nowhere, but suddenly a deer darts out of the ditch or is illuminated by headlights.
In the drama of wildlife versus car, the vehicle usually wins, but there is always a cost.
People can be injured or killed, vehicles are almost always damaged and the animal and its place in the ecosystem are erased.
Researchers at the Miistakis Institute, a non-profit group affiliated with the University of Calgary, have measured that cost.
They used 12 years of data gathered for a particular section of Highway 3 in southern Alberta to calculate property damage, human injury, fatalities and lost hunting revenue and then determine the following average costs from hitting a single animal: deer, $6,617; elk, $17,483; and moose, $30,760.
The institute estimates there are four to eight vehicle collisions with large animals every hour in Canada. Rudimentary math shows overall costs are astronomical.
Tracy Lee is the lead researcher on a project on Highway 3 between Lundbreck, Alta., and the British Columbia border.
She estimates the total annual costs from hitting deer, elk and moose in that 50 kilometre stretch are $909,000.
In one three km area of that span, vehicle-wildlife collision costs are an estimated $100,000 annually.
“We found with our research that with a lot of the sites along Highway 3, it is actually cost effective to society to build underpasses and fencing to help animals move safely across the road, and it improves human safety. So, good for wildlife, good for people.”
Lee said the project was the first to use an economic model to determine whether wildlife mitigation measures were cost effective.
Miistakis funded a citizen’s science group called Road Watch to obtain reliable data. Residents of the Lundbreck and Crowsnest Pass area and anyone travelling the highway could use a website with an interactive mapping tool to record wildlife sightings, collisions and evidence of collisions.
The result was more than 5,000 observations over five years.
“It identifies where animals need to move across Highway 3 and it identifies what we need to do to help them move safely across,” said Lee.
Rob Shaufele and his wife, Loretta, are the Road Watch project co-ordinators in the Crowsnest Pass.
Although the group’s funding has run out, it continues to collect data that it hopes will encourage Alberta Transportation to put wildlife fencing and underpasses in its budget.
“It’s really well documented, where the main critical areas are,” said Shaufele.
He sees underpasses and other projects to reduce collisions as having three-fold benefits: human safety, wildlife safety and reduced taxpayer expense.
Though wildlife mitigation projects are expensive, Miistakis figures show they are cost effective, he added.
In fact, Lee said they are even more cost effective than figures show because data was based in part on the number of wildlife carcasses found by Alberta Fish and Wildlife and Volker Stevin, the highway maintenance company.
“These are extremely conservative numbers,” she said.
“You can imagine how many are missed, because a lot of animals get hit and they wander off in the bush to die, or a predator drags them off.”
Lee said the data, which has been provided to Alberta Transportation, is key to getting highway projects implemented.
Government officials have been involved in the project and are generally supportive, she added.
“What we really need now is some local political pressure, so we need communities to be engaged in identifying this as an important issue and something they want to see happen,” she said about underpass and fencing projects.
Lee said the area involved in this study is studded with wildlife signage and reflectors, but deer, elk and bighorn sheep continue to be killed. Wildlife underpasses and overpasses have been proven to work in Canada and in other countries, she added.
“We need to think bigger. We need to think about what has been proven in the research to be 80 percent effective in reducing collisions with wildlife.”
The emphasis on this particular stretch of Highway 3 coincides with provincial plans to make improvements.
Shaufele is hopeful that the data will give the highways department justification to include wildlife underpasses in its plans.
- For more information, see the full report at www.rockies.ca/crossroads/logistics.php
- Road Watch in the Pass, www.rockies.ca/roadwatch/about.php
- Road Watch Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Road-Watch-in-the-Pass/280539758652705
- Hotspot Map, www.rockies.ca/roadwatch/images/Poster_WVCHotspots_Highway3_RoadWatch_Final.jpg