March 14th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 11
Next phase for Emerald Lake Wildlife Fencing
Collaring and collision count
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Dale Paton Photo
Pictured above is a tranquilized Bighorn Sheep as scientists attach a GPS collar that
will monitor its movements and interaction with the wildlife fence installed almost two
years ago at Emerald Lake, just west of Crowsnest Pass.
Pass Herald Reporter
Almost two years since the wildlife fence was mounted at Emerald Lake, its installment has mitigated the death of Bighorn Sheep that were frequently killed by vehicles travelling along Highway 3.

Now, studies are being conducted to provide insightful and critical information about the project and its efficacy in making Highway 3 safer – for both animals and humans.

On February 16, a group of scientists and conservation groups placed GPS neck collars on two Bighorn Sheep to track their movements near Highway 3, with the prospect of tagging three more at a later date. Members of Hillcrest Fish and Game, the Wild Sheep Foundation Alberta, Crowsnest Conservation Society and the University of Calgary participated in the initiative.

The collars are a way of monitoring the sheep and provides an understanding of how they interact with and move around the fence. Additionally, 10 cameras were installed along the fenced area in summer 2017 to add complementary insight.

"It's to document when and how often sheep travel around the ends of the fence, as well as how often they approach the jump-outs and if they are going over the jump-outs," says Dale Paton, a local conservation biologist who is one of the project leaders.

The collected data may expose potential problem areas demanding fence adjustment and help identify how to adjust the fence to maximize its effectiveness. Wildlife biologists will also have a better understanding where to put up warning signs or flashing wildlife signs and in general, will expand the knowledge regarding sheep ecology of the Crowsnest herd.
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Already, the cameras have provided valuable insight as to how sheep interact with the fencing structure, particularly how they are using the jump-outs, the platforms that allow animals to access the backcountry from the highway, but block access the other way around.

"At first, sheep would approach the jump-out and look over the edge. Then by June 2017, they were jumping through the structures. It just took them a few months to sort out how to use the structures," says Paton.

The GPS collar pings the location of the animal every two hours and Paton receives the data via radio satellite on his computer.

“Monitoring work has to occur to check effectiveness. We want to understand how bighorn sheep are responding to the fence because this is one of the first times in North America that this size of a fence was used to keep sheep off the road,” says Paton.

The project was funded by Hillcrest Fish & Game, the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), Wild Sheep Foundation Alberta, Ministers Special License Fund, Teck, SABA, Riversdale.

Accounting for a correction factor

Alberta Transportation installed the 1.5 km of wildlife fence at Emerald Lake in October 2016, the first Highway/Wildlife mitigation construction of this type outside of the National Park areas in Alberta.

The collaring project is part and parcel with the Miistakis Institute’s Collision Count Project, which seeks to identify precise evidence of the wildlife fence’s impact by collecting data of killed bighorns both before and after the fence went up.

Rob Schaufele is the project coordinator for Collision Count and is currently working on compiling data from Volker Stevin, Fish and Wildlife and Collision Count to submit to Miistakis, who will then approach the provincial government with the findings.
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“When Alberta Transportation decided to really do something in mitigation, they wanted more data on how many animals got killed at certain spots, before the fencing or underpasses were put in, as well as afterwards,” says Schaufele. “We want to collect timely data that shows how many animals are killed before anything is done and right after. The more evidence we have that show that these mitigation projects are working, the more likely the government is likely to invest in other projects.”

The Collision Count project aims to determine what Schaufele refers to as the “correction factor”, where the purpose is to identify a more accurate number in accounting for road kill along Highway 3.

To determine those road kills numbers, Collision Count volunteers hike across five sites identified as high-risk for animal impact and record carcasses on a smart phone application.

“The data that was collected through Road Watch, Volker Stevin and Fish and Wildlife over the years was counting carcasses and wildlife that we saw right at the highway. There’s lots that get hit and they wander off in the bush and die, sometimes 400 or 500 metres away from the highway,” says Schaufele. “We want to generate a correction factor, so we count them on the highway, but we also count the carcasses farther in the bush.”

Since the fence was completed, only two bighorn sheep have been killed right near Emerald Lake, and only a few east and west, past the fencing boundaries.

This is a substantial decrease from previous years. In 2013 the Bighorn Sheep death toll from wildlife vehicle collisions was about 12, and many of those were right by the bridge, where the fence is now.

The fencing extends 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.

Additional area of concern

The fencing and further research at Emerald Lake are important wildlife project because the population of Bighorn Sheep is small in number in that area. There were also noticeably elevated collisions between wildlife and vehicles through that corridor.

But Schaufele says there are additional areas of concern through the Highway 3 corridor.

One of those sections is Rock Creek, an important multi-species corridor with the highest number of road kills along that area than anywhere else along Highway 3 between Lundbreck and the BC border.

To mitigate the wildlife deaths at Rock Creek, an underpass is proposed to the east of the creek and put associative fencing in east and west directing wildfire to cross through the new wildlife underpass.

According to Shaufele, Alberta Transportation has already earmarked money for engineering and design for the project.

With the Highway 3 realignment plans, discussions about Rock Creek comes at a critical and timely juncture/moment.

“If we can get data put together that says what’s important and where, then there’s a better chance that something will be designed into the new realignment plans they have,” says Schafele.

Plans to realign the section of highway that Rock Creek is on are further down the road, but the Miistakis Institute has been working closely with Alberta Transportation with regards to the area of priority, the segment from Tim Hortons in Blairmore to Sentinel.
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March 14th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 11
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