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Wildlife overpass near Radium looks to protect iconic bighorn sheep herd

The Radium bighorn herd’s population has nearly halved over the last two decades
A bighorn sheep crosses Highway 93/95 on the slope south of the village. (File photo)

A wildlife overpass will be constructed near Radium Hot Springs to protect the iconic bighorn sheep population in the area and to make Highways 93 and 95 safer for travellers and residents of the area.

The Radium Wildlife Overpass, a project by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, will be located south of Radium Hot Springs near Mile Hill. The project also includes about six kilometres of wildlife fencing and gates that will guide animals to the overpass and safely over the highway.

“It’s vital that we keep people safe and protect these animals that are so critical to regional biodiversity,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure in a press release. “With the help of our partners, this new overpass will support safe passage for the bighorn sheep, protecting this herd that is so important to local First Nations and all the people of the East Kootenays.”

According to conservation groups, the Radium bighorn sheep herd is one of the last viable herds in the area, and approximately 10 per cent of the herd is killed annually by collisions with vehicles. The herd’s population has nearly halved over the last two decades, dropping from 230 in 2003 to 120 in 2019.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has partnered with Parks Canada, the Village of Radium Hot Springs, Teck Resources Ltd., the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Ktunaxa Nation Council and the Shuswap Band in the construction of the project.

Today, Teck announced a $2.5 million contribution to help complete the project, which is in line with its ‘Nature Positive by 2030’ goal. According to Teck, becoming ‘nature-positive’ means that, by 2030, its conservation, protection and restoration of land and biodiversity will ‘exceed the disturbance caused by its mining activities’.

“This project is critical to maintaining wildlife habitat connectivity, while protecting people and bighorn sheep in the East Kootenay,” said Jonathan Price, CEO of Teck, in a press release.

According to the provincial government, more than 5,000 wildlife-motor vehicle collisions happen in B.C. per year. Deer are involved in about 85 per cent of wildlife collisions across the province.

Much is being done by the provincial government to prevent these collisions. More than 600 kilometres of wildlife exclusion fencing is up across the province, more than any other transportation agency in North America, and B.C. also has the most wildlife overpasses in the country.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok has been committed to seeing this project become a reality for a few years now.

In 2019, Clovechok met with officials to discuss the alarming mortality rate of Bighorn Sheep due to traffic along Highways 93 and 95. He later went on to spearhead the formation of a group to address the concern, approaching their respective organizations to propose a solution.

“This project is an example of how an MLA can work with other elected officials, volunteers, and government agencies, to get results on issues that are important to a community. It all starts with the people who care — who reach out with their concerns, and I really want to thank them for doing that,” said Clovechok in a press release.

The Radium Wildlife Overpass project will be going to tender in the coming weeks.

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