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Wildsight raises concern over deaths of Bighorn Sheep near Radium Hot Springs

Wildsight Conservation Director John Bergenske said the One Mile Hill leading into Radium Hot Springs has long been known as a dangerous spot for both motorists and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. — Photos courtesy Pat Morrow

The Conservation Director at Wildsight in the East Kootenay is concerned a lack of action by Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is to blame for at least four dead bighorn sheep during the past week alone

John Bergenske at Wildsight said in an emailed statement that this is the latest in a spate of deaths decimating the Radium bighorn sheep herd that saw an additional 13 highway mortalities in 2021.

“The One Mile Hill leading into Radium Hot Springs has long been known as a dangerous spot for both motorists and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep,” Bergenske explained.

“This stretch of highway is the gateway to the Columbia Valley which sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends and tourist-heavy seasons.”

Wildsight, based out of Kimberley with branch locations in Creston, Elk Valley, Golden, Invermere, Cranbrook and Revelstoke, protects biodiversity and encourages sustainability in Canada’s Columbia and Rocky Mountain regions.

Bergenske said the problem has been exacerbated by the prolonged closures of Highway 1, which forced traffic to detour through Radium.

He added that Highway 95 also carries heavy trucks, particularly logging and chip trucks, up and down the valley. 

“Last week there were collisions on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — each resulting in a dead ram,” Bergenske said.

“Then on Friday a ewe was killed.”

Bergenske said residents and conservationists have been calling for action to be taken by the MOTI for years. But nothing has been done.

Bergenske said a Facebook page launched by Radium resident Nicole Trigg has shined a light on the rolling death count, leading to discussions fencing and a much-needed overpass.

“But even if these are committed to, it will certainly take too long to deal with the ongoing slaughter,” Bergenske said.

“MOTI needs to take action to protect bighorn sheep and motorists while sheep are near the highway.”

Bighorn Sheep stop traffic on Highway 95 south of Radium Hot Springs. — Pat Morrow photo

Bergenske said most collisions occur in a three kilometre-strip of the hill which has a passing lane and 90 km speed limit — clearly proven to be a recipe for disaster.

He said the MOTI has thus far refused calls to reduce speeds and close the passing lane.

“The existing warning signs have proved ineffective,” Bergenske said.

“Reduced speeds that are enforced, along with active signage that warns travelers when they are not slowing down could certainly make a difference in dealing with the present carnage.”

Bergenske said Radium Hot Springs welcomes visitors into its community with an impressive $300,000 public art sculpture paying tribute to the bighorn sheep.

He said the irony is not lost that that metres from this exhibit, sheep are meeting their demise from those very drivers.

“A few minutes' delay in arrival is a small price to pay to protect both motorists and the sheep who are this community’s icon,” Bergenske said.

“There is no excuse for MOTI not to be treating this section of highway the same way as they do an active construction zone whenever sheep are present in the area.

“A lack of action is inviting the next accident to happen, and it may not be just sheep that are the victims.”