In the two months it’s been opened, five wildlife collisions have happened near or along the new southwest ring road, and critics say lack of fencing is to blame.
The 12-kilometre Tsuut’ina Trail from Sarcee Trail SW to Fish Creek Blvd SW, opened Oct. 1. That’s a large section of the estimated $1.4 billion southwest ring road project. The province said the roadway is 80 per cent complete and is on schedule for a fall 2021 opening.
In the time since opening, members of the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society (WGPPS) have documented five wildlife collisions in the area. It’s abutted to the Elbow River Valley / Weaselhead and Fish Creek Park.
The ring road technical drawings call for wildlife fencing in these areas, but it hasn’t been installed yet. It is also in the contract.
Sarah Nevill, WGPPS executive director, said for the safety of drivers and animals alike, they’re disappointed fencing wasn’t installed prior to the road’s opening.
“As the Elbow Valley is a recognized wildlife corridor, animals will continue to try to cross without wildlife fencing to guide them to the underpasses that were created to facilitate safe movement,” she said.
“The longer we go without the fencing, the greater risk for more vehicle/wildlife collisions. So, the sooner it’s installed, the better.”
According to Alberta Transportation press secretary Mckenzie Kibler, the corridor was designed and built with safety in mind. They’ve used a barrier-free design consistent with all Alberta Transportation infrastructure, ensuring hazards remain a safe distance from the road.
“Alberta Transportation will continue to monitor and assess the safety of Tsuut’ina Trail through our construction partners,” Kibler wrote in an email.
Nevill said in their conversations with KGL Construction, the earth moving and post hole digging was stopped for the winter.
We made two requests to speak with KGL, none received a response.
Animals need to be directed
Lisa Dahlseide, SW Ring Road impact study coordinator for the WGPPS, said two of the wildlife collisions were closer to the Highway 8 / Discovery Ridge area adjacent to the ring road construction, but three of them are in this new corridor.
Dahlseide said their group believed the contract stated wildlife fencing was to be put up before the road opened. After they investigated further, they realized that timeline was shifted.
She said the wildlife underpasses built into the roadway do show some signs of travel. Not enough compared with the wildlife in the area, Dahlseide said. Wildlife got used to just crossing the road during construction.
There used to be 14 male deer in the area, Dahlseide said. Now there are six, according to their count. They had counted 30 females at one time, but they don’t have an accurate recent count.
“Taking even one individual from that population from those species is quite impactful on our breeding population,” she said.
They’ve only noticed a few deer tracks using the underpasses. And, one American mink who seems to travel through it.
“I would love it if they had the motivation to do it as soon as possible,” she said.
“We want it to start directing the wildlife movement into the intended corridor, which currently is not being utilized.”
Cost to animals, people
Obviously, the loss of an animal in a collision is terrible, said Dahlseide. There’s a cost to humans as well – a financial one.
She said the average cost of a deer collision is about $6,000. Add in costs beyond the vehicle and perhaps hitting a bigger animal – like a moose – and it could reach $30,000 when you account for medical, lost time from work, etc.
“This is something that’s an economic issue as well as an issue that’s impacting the biodiversity in the Weaselhead,” she said.
Nevill added that beyond wildlife collisions there’s an impact in natural migration.
“Even if animals don’t try to cross the road – for example, if they turn back or move out of the valley following the edge of the TUC (transportation/utility corridor) – this may have impacts too, including preventing seasonal movement between habitats, affecting access to resources (e.g. preventing animals from moving around the Elbow Valley freely to find food), and restricting dispersal of young,” Nevill wrote in an email.
She said the ring road’s environmental impact assessment showed the underpasses would reduce the impact on wildlife.
“The function of the underpasses is compromised by lack of wildlife fencing, so we look forward to its installation as soon as possible,” she said.