The Conservation Coordinator for the Elk Valley branch of Wildsight, Randal Macnair is excited the provincial government has shifted gears to address one of the region’s most problematic conservation issues — wildlife mortality on Highway 3 between Fernie and Cranbrook.
“The southeast Kootenay, in particular the Elk and Flathead valleys, is one of the most critical points for wildlife connectivity in North America and we have a busy inter-provincial highway and a railway main line bisecting this critical wildlife corridor,” said Randal. “In the last 10 years the traffic along Highway 3 has gone up 24 to 25 per cent. The impact is substantial, it’s harder and harder for wildlife to cross.”
Stopping the erosion of wildlife connectivity and improving highway safety has been on Wildsight’s agenda for a decade. A forum in 2010 led to the release of the report ‘The Highway 3: Transportation Mitigation for Wildlife and Connectivity report’ (Clevenger et al. 2010), which summarized existing knowledge on large-bodied animals including carnivores and ungulates, and animal-vehicle collision clusters to identify key linkage zones across the highway, but without political will to drive the recommendations forward, the report sat on the shelf collecting dust.
In 2016, in conjunction with the Miistakis Institute and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), Wildsight established Roadwatch, a three-year citizen science project to raise awareness about wildlife connectivity and the transportation corridor. Upon completion, data collected from the project was combined with provincial data provided by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, (MOTI) and Tony Clevenger re-visited the report with Tracy Lee and Clayton Lamb, publishing an amendment in 2019 that set the stage for a long-awaited change.
“What’s been really exciting is how MOTI has really stepped up to the plate,” said Randal. “They’ve worked with the scientists and are looking at the engineering with wildlife corridors in mind so we’re making progress as a result of this work that we haven’t seen before. And the staff at the ministry have been absolutely fabulous.”
Currently, a new bridge near Fernie is being built with connectivity infrastructure, designed with wildlife in mind, and a twinning project taking place just west of Jaffray will include the installation of wildlife fencing and an underpass.
“Whereas 10 years ago, highway planning wasn’t being done in the Elk Valley with wildlife in mind,” Randal said. “The planning is definitely now taking place.”
Randal credits Duane Wells, the Regional Manager for Environmental Services for the MOTI Engineering Section, for seeking out opportunities to incorporate wildlife planning in the large and costly highway infrastructure projects. He also credits the KCP Elk Valley Conservation Action Forum, which took place in Fernie in May 2019, for galvanizing the local conservation community to prioritize highway connectivity, which provided the rationale needed to secure government support and move the process forward.
“I think that’s a really important component to this, that what we’re doing is supported by science,” he said. “There’s been lots of science done, but what it’s going to take to enhance connectivity is the bricks and mortar infrastructure to separate wildlife from vehicular traffic.”
Randal has been the Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator for two years, but his history with Wildsight extends further back to when he was Mayor of Fernie and became involved in the campaign to end mining, oil and gas development and coal-bed gas extraction in the Flathead Valley, which culminated in 2010 with a moratorium on these activities, something he remains proud to have been a part of to this day. He spent a total of 15 years as a member of Fernie City Council including six as Mayor and six as a Director on the Region District of East Kootenay. In the past, he’s also held roles as the publisher for Oolichan Books, as a museum consultant working throughout Western Canada, and as an instructor/program coordinator for the College of the Rockies (COTR). He’s been on the COTR Board of Directors for two years and is currently Chair. As the Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator, the highway connectivity project has been one of his primary campaigns.
“It’s a unifying project, it’s something where everybody who cares about wildlife, regardless of their background, will stand side-by-side and say this is a good thing,” he said. “This is good for wildlife this is good for human safety. It’s a very positive initiative.”