More than 5,400 signatures have been added to the petition calling for wildlife fencing along Cowichan’s Highway 18.
The online appeal, entitled “Hwy 18 needs wildlife fencing ASAP” was set up by Lake Cowichan’s Bonnie Jones following the Nov. 19 accident that took the life of Maureen Cowles-Curtis. Another 100 signatures grace a paper petition at the Lake Cowichan seniors centre, as well.
“I kept hearing something needed to be done after every accident but I’ve never heard of anything being done so I started it to basically start the conversation in a very serious way to get something done sooner rather than later,” Jones explained.
“The fencing is just a conversation starter and only one option,” she added. “Lower speeds and lighting would be an awesome start to a solution but with the recent death and two people seriously injured its time to get this moving.”
The daughter of the Nov. 19 elk-involved crash victim has signed the petition in honour of her mom.
Meaghan Briault said she was taught in elementary school that petitions were a way for citizens to tell politicians what they want.
“Safety studies and improvements to Highway 18, particularly the area known as Hill 60, are vitally important to our community,” Briault said. “And we have the ability to minimize any accidents like hers. And if we have the ability, don’t we have the responsibility?”
Briault said her mom, who was in her early 60s, had a deep love for nature and for animals and, “I know that she would support wildlife overpasses”.
Linda Acker’s Chrysler Sebring collided with an elk on Nov. 24 around 8:45 p.m.
“We were on Highway 18 just before the railroad tracks by Somenos. There’s a slight corner and we came around the corner there were four elk across the road just like a roadblock. We couldn’t have swerved to avoid them if we’d had time to try. It happened so fast.”
Acker said if there had been lights on that road they might have seen them.
“But it’s so dark. You don’t have a chance to miss them.”
The people in her car were shaken but not seriously injured.
“I want people to be aware of how dangerous those animals are on the road and I’d just like to support the idea that maybe fences would be part of a solution,” she said. “We were lucky that we never got hurt. the car is in the shop but the only thing that saved us was that the elk was too big to fit through the window.”
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Trevor Busch said “it is possible wildlife fencing is an option,” but that it would take consultation with multiple ministries within the provincial government.
A statement from Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said safety is the ministry’s top priority and the ministry’s Wildlife Program is committed to reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions and increasing public awareness.
“The ministry is aware that the areas bordering Highway 18 are active with wildlife. That’s why the ministry has posted wildlife warning signs in this zone along Highway 18 and Youbou Road to alert motorists, and has also issued seasonal advisories for travellers to use caution when driving in areas prone to wildlife.”
The MoTI also said there are four wildlife cameras installed along Highway 18 to track wildlife movements in the area.
“The ministry also provides funding to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to track herds in the area,” and to identify the highest crossing sites in the area.
With news of the most recent collision in the area, the ministry is looking at what additional measures can be taken to prevent collisions with wildlife.
“While the ministry has been investigating the potential of wildlife exclusion fencing for elk along Highway 18, the area is bordered by private lands and crossing structures, which makes this option problematic,” said the statement.
Jones said drivers are already taking the issue into their own hands.
“I’ve heard people are warning each other now if elk are on highway flashing lights, posting [on social media] etc.,” she said. “Also I’ve noticed an increase of traffic on the old road which I’m sure isn’t a coincidence.”
Jones knows fencing studies will take time but believes in the interim, the first thing that could be done is to install lights at Hill 60 and in the Skutz Falls turn off area. “They’re two areas known for the elk,” she said. “And also lowering the speed limit especially dusk to dawn when most wildlife is active. These are two things that could be acted on sooner rather than later and could be implemented ASAP while we wait for bigger improvements.”