Radium bighorn herd faces increasing peril
By Ian Cobb
Was that headline enough to grab your attention, dear provincial and federal government officials?
Because you both need to pay attention.
Locals have been sounding the alarm about dangers to the Radium Hot Springs Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd for decades, mostly surrounding traffic coming into and out of the village.
Sheep fatalities have been common along the entries into the village for as long as vehicles have been operated by inattentive, careless, thoughtless and selfish drivers.
Because that’s what one has to be in order to drive into a bighorn. This is a species that races up steep slopes and cliff-faces to escape danger or find food. Such creatures are far less prone to irrational movements, such as skittish deer, and bolt in front of vehicles.
It took a ridiculous long time to have flashing signage installed at the top of Mile Hill warning drivers heading north to Radium to slow down because sheep are CONSTANTLY on or beside the highway.
My recall is sketchy now but I reckon I editorialized on the danger to the sheep from reckless drivers about five or seven times in The Valley Echo over several years in the mid to late 1990s, citing local experts and conservationists (Ian Jack, Larry Halvorson and Bill Swan spring to mind).
Finally, one day, there it was – a flashing sign warning about sheep. Fine and dandy!
Fast forward two decades and the danger to the sheep is much worse, despite further small measures put in place to alert drivers to the continuous presence of them.
The Village of Radium Hot Springs cherishes its sheep herd – celebrates it several major ways, from eye-popping statuary to the annual Headbanger Festival.
Recently, a guardian group has formed to try and cast a strong light on the plight of the bighorn herd.
The ‘Help the Radium Bighorn Herd’ group is currently raising funds for a wildlife overpass for Radium’s Mile Hill, one of three highway entry points to the village. Because of the uphill passing lane, one of just a few along the entire stretch of Highway 93/95 from Wasa to Radium, drivers hit the gas and then the sheep.
And that crap has to come to a stop.
An overpass with sufficient fencing would be an excellent way to spare many lives, not to mention human safety and life. And that requires provincial and federal funding.
The overpasses near Banff are heralded the world-over as examples of efforts to protect wildlife along highways. It’s time to expand that program for at least one of Radium’s entry points. One for each entry would be best.
It’s safe to assume most local Ministry of Transportation and Highways and Parks Canada folks are acutely aware of the dangers to the sheep herd, which has seen its numbers fall from around 250 about a decade or more ago to about 120 now.
Sadly, overpasses will take years to construct, based on how slowly things move with the provincial and federal governments and with continued massive volumes of detour traffic coming from Highway 1 to Radium, many more sheep will be killed.
So it is vital that the powers that be scramble to ensure traffic is kept moving slowly.
I wrote this editorial after seeing this disturbing video shared on Facebook by Skilled Truckers Canada, which shows a transport truck making an insane downhill pass on Highway 93 just east of Radium Hot Springs recently.
Dear government officials – that is why so many sheep are being killed! And consider the threat to human lives with this insane behaviour!
You are in charge of the national park dear feds. You’re on the clock to get your butts in gear and do something of substance for these poor creatures.
And you too, B.C. government, because a vital element to tourism in the B.C. Rockies is in continued danger, if the simple request of sparing the lives of our wild neighbours isn’t captivating enough to illustrate that point.
If you wish to take part in the ‘Help the Radium Bighorn Herd’ fundraising campaign, please click here.
And in the meantime, slow the hell down when you’re driving into and out of Radium.
Lead image: A still from the video showing a transport driver passing another downhill, head-on at a trucker heading up hill on Highway 93 east of Radium Hot Springs. Still and video from Skilled Truckers Canada