Endangered caribou become road kill on B.C. mountain highway
Environmentalists say something has to be done to stop B.C.'s endangered mountain caribou from become road kill, after a pregnant cow and a calf were recently killed in the Kootenay Pass on Highway 3.
So far this year three of the endangered animals have been killed on the highway that runs through the southern B.C. Interior.
That's a huge setback for the local herd which only has about 45 animals, said Dave Quinn, a wildlife biologist and program manager with Wildsight, a local environmental group that has been trying to revive the herd for years.
"Lots of effort has been put into these animals — hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a success story and just to lose animals on the highway like this is just crushing," said Quinn.
About 1,900 mountain caribou live in the higher alpine areas throughout the B.C. Interior, but the Kootenay Pass is one of the few places where drivers can see endangered species from their vehicles.
That's because the mountain caribou often cross the highway at the pass and sometimes congregate on the road to lick salt off the road.
The pregnant cow and a calf were hit by an SUV and killed earlier in March, but the driver didn't stay at the scene, according to Quinn.
"This person must have been in an incredible rush and maybe aware they did something wrong and left the scene," said Quinn.
To stop the deaths, Quinn is calling for lower speed limits, better signs, and salt licks located away from the highway to encourage the caribou to stay away from the road. A similar program was used to keep bighorn sheep around nearby Radium Hotsprings from becoming road kill.
Environmental groups say mountain caribou are one of the most critically endangered animals in North America, relying entirely on old-growth forest in the world's only inland temperate rainforest.
Ninety per cent of the world’s mountain caribou live in about 18 herds in the mountains of southeast British Columbia, while the rest live in parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana. The animals are a variety of woodland caribou that has adapted to the special conditions in the wet, mountainous forests.
In February, the B.C. government announced plans to protect a large area of mountain caribou habitat, putting more than 20,000 square kilometres off limits for logging and road building and closing 10,000 square kilometres to snowmobilers.