Radium overpass donation campaign draws two huge contributions on first day

By Steve Hubrecht
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The Radium bighorn sheep herd continues to generate plenty of attention, and is now even generating some considerable donations toward an overpass to help reduce the number of sheep being hit by traffic.

As the Pioneer reported last week, plans are afoot for a wildlife overpass over Highway 93/95 near Radium Hot Springs and for extra tall wildlife fencing stretching south from the village to Dry Gulch. The Village of Radium Hot Springs has set up an option on its website to allow the public to donate to help get the ball rolling even sooner of the $4 million project.

The donation option went live on Monday, Feb. 7, and on that first day, two huge donations — one for $20,000 and another for $10,000 came in.

“There’s a lot of interest in the bighorns,” Radium mayor Clara Reinhardt told the Pioneer on Feb. 7.

The $10,000 donation came from a senior Cranbrook resident, and the $20,000 donation came from the Shaunessy family trust.
An additional $1,000 in various smaller amounts has also been donated, and Reinhardt said she suspects even more may come in soon since “there have been people calling from all over Canada to ask how to donate.”

The village will figure out a way to track the donations online, using a digital thermometer or something similar, for instance, and updating it daily, so the public can see how much has been raised.

“Our goal is $400,000, which is 10 per cent of the total cost,” said Reinhardt.

The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) has committed $1.5 million to $1.6 million toward the overpass and fencing, and ministry representatives had told Radium officials that a public show of interest would help them leverage more provincial funding for the project.

Radium’s resident bighorn herd has for years suffered noticeable increases in vehicle-related fatalities during the fall rut, in winter, and in spring, when heavy snow cover in the hills and mountains sees them favour grazing in town and — frequently — on the slopes right beside the highway near the village. This past year ,the already alarming trend got considerably worse, coinciding with a dramatic surge in local traffic resulting from TransCanada Highway closures that have rerouted all cross country traffic down Highway 93 South to Radium, then north to Golden up Highway 95.

The end result was 15 bighorns killed in 2021, compared with an annual average of 10 in recent years.
A stakeholder meeting on wildlife issues as well as general traffic safety was held on Tuesday, Feb. 1, involving 24 officials from local governments, Parks Canada, the RCMP, and senior MOTI staff.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok, who helped organize the meeting, explained the bighorn issue (and a similar situation for other wildlife) has been a concern for many years, and the issue of traffic safety along Highway 93 South, Highway 93/95, and Highway 95 between Golden and Radium has become an even bigger issue than it was before with TransCanada closures

“People are obviously concerned,” said Clovechok. “So I was very pleased with the meeting. The representation and the senior level of the provincial staff present is a testament to the work that’s been done — and I should point out that many parties, including MOTI, have been working on this issue for a long time now — and it’s a testament to how serious the issue is.”
Clovechok said it’s a complex issue and there were “no magic bullet solutions” but it was a fulsome discussion.

He noted that MOTI is planning to employ members of local First Nations to sit on the Radium hill (a site where many sheep are hit) in cars during peak traffic seasons and monitor vehicles to help get people to slow down, and that $250,000 has already been spent developing a concept for the overpass.

“At the end of the day, it seems the overpass and the fencing, although expensive, are the best answer. Because if you keep the sheep off the highway, they’re not going to get hit,” said Clovechok. “It isn’t going to be an overnight solution. It’s a $4 million project. It will be a long road, but we’ll get there.”

He noted that aside from the bighorn sheep, eight bears had been hit and killed on local highways in the last little while.

“Wildlife management needs to be improved across B.C. And I don’t want to be partisan on that: the NDP are in power now, but when the Liberals were in charge (from 2001 to 2017) we didn’t do a good job on wildlife management either,” said Clovechok. “This place used to be called the Serengeti of the Kootenay region, and as an elk hunter I can tell you, it’s sure not the Serengeti any more.”