By Breanne Massey, with files from Dauna Ditson
The beloved bighorn sheep herd that resides in and around Radium has gained attention from local politicians and environmental stewards.
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok recently facilitated a community discussion via Zoom about advocating for the overall health of the herd, minimizing the risk for motor vehicle accidents (MVA) where drivers collide into animals and to form a working group to make continuous improvements on Highway 93/95.
“This was on our radar before COVID-19 came to us,” said Clovechok, noting that members of the community had raised concerns about the plight of the sheep in Radium.
“It’s such an iconic species and to our area.” Clovechok added that the numbers are also decreasing due to natural causes.
“My dream would be to approach the federal government to see if they would be interested in taking care of some infrastructure to build an overpass … this is exactly where the community can get together with the ministry to find a solution.”
In addition, RCMP Sgt. Darren Kakuno confirmed that the total number of collisions putting the herd at risk were not well-known within his team due to the reporting structure of these incidents. (Collisions are also reported to conservation officers.)
“Collisions with sheep would be recorded as an animal file, so I wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a collision with a deer or even a dog complaint,” Kakuno said when statistics were requested from the RCMP.
“Also, not all collisions with animals are reported to police unless there is significant damage to the vehicle, or if an animal needs to be put down. When we do receive a report of a collision with a sheep we report it to Kent Kebe in Radium.”
Kent Kebe, the chairperson of the working committee for bighorn sheep advocacy, said 10 sheep have died from collisions so far in 2020 and five more are known to have been injured. He speculates that many others have also been hurt on the steep stretch of the Radium hill that leads into the village. The Radium herd has decreased from over 250 sheep down to 130, and he wants the remaining to sheep to be safer on the road.
“The speed of drivers is no doubt a major factor in sheep fatalities,” Clovechok said, while expressing interest in radar detectors to show animals that are near the road. “It costs money to do all of this stuff, but people are talking about it and usually when smart people get together and start together, things start to happen.”
The Village of Radium Hot Springs has been engaged to participate in the working group so that the municipality is onboard and in the loop about the ongoing work being done.
“The sheep are iconic and very important to the community, Parks Canada and the visitors,” Village of Radium Hot Springs mayor Clara Reinhardt replied to the Pioneer via e-mail. “We will continue to work with the stakeholders to provide the safest environment we can.”
Councillors Mike Gray and Todd Logan represented the Village of Radium Hot Springs during the discussion and were pleased to see several ideas geared toward assisting the herd from various community groups.
“Issues raised were the declining sheep numbers over the last 20+ years, and a significant cause of this being MVA impacts,” councillor Gray wrote the Pioneer after the meeting. “About a dozen different ideas were discussed to improve safety for the bighorn sheep without reducing safety for motorists, cyclists, and other users of the highway corridor. Various people from locals to highway experts to wildlife experts added comments on the advantages and disadvantages of each idea.”
Councillor Logan added a comment to the Pioneer that “the ministries recognize the challenges and risks to the remaining herd size … A rep mentioned that it is a high priority.”
Clovechok expects to facilitate ongoing meetings with community representatives and to continue discussions via Zoom in the future.
Kebe hopes to see a solution in place soon and said: “It’s a 20-year quest … to have finally gotten this far.”