February 17th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 7
Local hunters to monitor sheep
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Tony Stoklosa photo
Bighorn sheep on Highway 3 near Crowsnest Lake.
Pass Herald Reporter
Whether he’s fishing or just driving past the Crownest Lakes, Gordon Chaisson’s mind is never far from bighorn sheep.

“I’ve spent a lot of summers and mornings and nights there watching sheep get killed,” he said over coffee. “There was this one day I went out there and it would have torn your heart apart. There was this little tiny lamb near the highway and when we went back out there the next morning it was dead on the road. All that next couple of days the ewe was out on the rock cut bawling. So we were saying something should be done about this.”

In the spring of 2016, Alberta Transportation plans to begin construction of about 1.5 kilometres of wildlife fencing along both sides of Highway 3.

The fencing will extend east and west of the existing Emerald Lake vehicle overpass and will funnel wildlife, specifically bighorn sheep, to cross back and forth under the highway.

In addition, Hillcrest Fish and Game has applied to the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) for a $38,000 grant to purchase 20 GPS collars and remote cameras to track sheep populations near Highway 3. Volunteers from five conservation groups will help to implement the three-year project meant to test the effectiveness of the new sheep fence.

“If our data shows that that fence is not stopping the sheep, we’ve got to start looking at putting more fencing along that stretch,” said Chaisson, project liaison for Hillcrest Fish and Game.
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They have yet to receive a response but will nevertheless be working with biologists Dale Paton and Tony Clevenger to inform wildlife managers and Alberta Transportation about wildlife movement around the highway.

Mitigation projects of this kind are usually found inside national parks or on major highway improvement projects but the lake has seen a high number of vehicle and wildlife collisions.

Sheep mortality peaked in 2013 and 2014 when over 15 sheep were lost from the total population of about 100 individuals.

Wildlife biologist Dale Paton said the project is the first step in solving a long-term liability to the Crowsnest Pass Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd and habitats critical to their survival.

Paton said the data could be used to find the best places to build underpasses or overpasses that would allow safe passage for resident wildlife as well as long ranging wildlife to cross Highway 3.

“You might be amazed at the number of people who observe the bighorn sheep at Crowsnest Lakes,” said Paton. “Anyone that knows about them is watching to catch a glimpse of sheep or to avoid running into them. Like many others, for decades I have scanned the right of ways and cliffs to see if any sheep are around each time I drive the road.”

When it reaches Crowsnest Lake, Highway 3 bisects critical winter range for five ungulate wildlife species, habitat for furbearers, and six carnivores including grizzly bears.
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A 2010 report by researchers identified the Crowsnest Lake as part of an important wildlife movement area for multiple species important to the biodiversity of Alberta.

“If wildlife populations are isolated by a highway because they cannot cross it, a population can lose its genetic diversity which is [bad] for long term population survival,” said Paton.

This won’t be the first time Hillcrest Fish and Game has made efforts to keep sheep safe. About 20 years ago, the association helped make it illegal to hunt bighorn too close to the highway.

According to the ACA grant application, Hillcrest Fish and Game in conjunction with Fish and Wildlife, helped enforce a buffer zone about a kilometre north and south of Highway 3.

“It was determined at the time that legitimate harvest of bighorn sheep did not fall in line with the ethics of “fair chase doctrine,”” said the application.

The salt and forage along the highway made it easy for hunters to dispatch sheep and the buffer zone was successfully implemented.
February 17th ~ Vol. 85 No. 7
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