By Steve Hubrecht

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Winter is firmly here, and consequently, wildlife-vehicle collisions are on the rise.

While trucks and cars hitting and killing bighorn sheep tends to catch the most attention (see story on page 9), other wildlife species, particularly ungulates such as deer and elk, also suffer increased traffic-related fatalities during the winter months.

A local resident witnessed the results of this trend firsthand, the week before the Christmas holidays when he came upon a doe that had been hit and badly injured on the Athalmer Road hill (between the Athalmer bridge and the crossroads) in the eastbound lane.

“Unfortunately, the driver that hit her didn’t stick around or call it in,” said the resident. “Although in a very busy area, it took about 45 minutes for the RCMP to come and euthanize her.”

Another driver stopped and along with the resident tried to redirect traffic around the deer to give it a chance to get up and get away.

“It was amazing to see drivers’ speeding and inattention until the very last minute, nearly running into us,” said the resident.

Eventually a plow truck driver saw what was happening and parked in front of the deer to block it from traffic.

“Wildlife is very active at this time of year. So we need to drive appropriately for the conditions,” said the resident.

Wildlife officials are emphatic and clear: when winter conditions are present and wildlife is on roadways more often, drivers need to slow down, possibly even below the posted speed limit, and take care.

If you do hit wildlife or witness a collision (or its aftermath), officials say that the best number to call, and the one that will get the quickest response, is the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-7277, although the RCMP can also be called.

Invermere senior conservation officer Greg Kruger told the Pioneer there have been “quite a few” deer and elk, and other wildlife, hit and killed so far this December and January. The spike in fatalities began with the heavy snowfall the Columbia Valley experienced in early to mid-December, he noted.

Kruger explained that if drivers see an obviously long-dead animal near the roadside there is no need to call it in, as highway contracting company Mainroad deals with roadkill.

Wildlife that is still alive but seriously injured, however, is a different matter.

“Call the conservation officers. We can come, assess whether or not it has a chance of surviving, and if so, how badly it may suffer, and whether or not it needs to be euthanized,” said Kruger.

He emphasized that many drivers aren’t driving the way they should considering winter conditions, and that those who stop to help wildlife need to be cautious themselves.

“It is very important to remain safe and ensure there are no further injuries at the scene,” said Kruger. “If there isn’t any risk, stay with the animal, put your vehicle’s hazard lights on to steer traffic away and call the conservation officers.”

Motorists try to help a deer struck by a vehicle on Athalmer Road hill.