Village will collect donations to help build the overpass through its municipal website

By Steve Hubrecht
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Plans are in the works for a wildlife overpass over the highway near Radium Hot Springs and for extra tall wildlife fencing stretching south from the village, to help reduce the rising number of bighorn sheep fatalities that have been happening in Radium this winter. 

The Village of Radium will be taking donations toward construction of the overpass and fencing through its municipal website.

The resident bighorn sheep population — along with the nearby Radium hot pools — have made Radium justifiably famous not just in B.C. but also around the world. The bighorns often hang out right in the village, particularly in winter, when snow on the mountain slopes reducing grazing options there and prompts the sheep into town. 

Each year there is a spike in bighorn fatalities resulting from sheep being hit by traffic in Radium during the annual fall rut, through the winter, and in the spring. This past year, however, the fatalities have occurred at an alarmingly higher rate than normal — with 15 bighorns killed in 2021, compared with an annual average of 10 in recent years.

Local residents and wildlife enthusiasts have noted that the dramatic rise in bighorn accidents coincides, perhaps not coincidentally, with a huge surge in the number of vehicles coming through Radium as a result of the closure of the TransCanada Highway between Field and Golden, and the subsequent rerouting of all cross country traffic down Highway 93 South to Radium, then north to Golden up Highway 95. 

The dramatic increase in bighorn fatalities prompted Radium resident Nicole Trigg to start a Help the Radium Bighorn herd Facebook page this past December, which has prompted a flood of interest over the past month about the fate of the bighorns, with the issue getting attention in national media, and with a great many people from all over the globe expressing their concern to the village and others involved with the bighorns.

“It’s really taken on a life of its own. It’s getting a lot of interest,” said Radium Mayor Clara Reinhardt at the village’s most recent council meeting, on Wednesday, Jan. 26.

As a result of the attention, the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure recently met with Trigg, Reinhardt and Parks Canada to discuss potential solutions. 

“There’s no surefire easy answer,” Reinhardt reported to other councillors at the council meeting, adding that options that have been put forward include lowering speed limits, not using brine (which can attract wildlife) on the highway to reduce ice, putting salt licks for the sheep away from the highway, and adding flashing signs warning drivers of the sheep.

The ministry explained that each of those options entails challenges that could very well ultimately backfire, relayed Reinhardt. Not using brine on the highway, for instance, would make things dicey for drivers in winter. Lowering the speed limit might not work, as the road is built to handle a speed limit of 80 kilometres an hour.

A fair number of drivers will unfortunately continue to drive that speed (or faster) no matter what the limit is, said Reinhardt. “This could create a whole new set of problems, as there will be some people driving the new speed limit and those driving too fast, trying to pass them. That could be worse for the sheep and also less safe for people.”

All of which leaves the ministry facing the considerably more expensive yet much more likely to succeed option of building a wildlife overpass over highway 93/95 near the Radium hill and putting up wildlife fencing from the south end of the village to Dry Gulch. Similar efforts in Kootenay National Park and Banff National Park have been effective in drastically decreasing wildlife traffic accidents. 

The wildlife overpass near Radium would require fencing that stretches down to Dry Gulch and will likely total at least $4 million to complete. The ministry has committed funding toward an overpass, Reinhardt explained to council, adding that in the meantime, many people have reached out the village asking if they can donate to help the bighorns. “There are a lot of people interested in giving to the cause,” said Reinhardt, asking councillors if they thought it was a good idea, as she does, to set up an option through the village’s website allowing people to donate towards the overpass and fencing. 

All councillors voiced their support for the idea, saying they wanted the online process to be as simple and as transparent as possible. Councillor Tyler McCauley noted that setting up an online donation system through the village’s website could have plenty of future use for various other good causes that local nonprofit groups may want to take up.

At the end of the meeting Reinhardt emphasized that, contrary to some disparaging comments made by residents, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has “been seriously involved in this from the start…they have been working with us the best they can.”