Low light conditions along Highway 18 don’t give motorists much of a chance to avoid collisions with elk. (Malcolm Chalmers photo)

Low light conditions along Highway 18 don’t give motorists much of a chance to avoid collisions with elk. (Malcolm Chalmers photo)

Need for solution to problem of ‘wildlife incidents’ on Highway 18: McGonigle

Numbers of elk are growing, and they are now showing up in new areas, increasing danger to drivers

Many Cowichan Lake residents love the area’s abundant wildlife.

Despite groans about elk pounding down shrubs or turning gardens into all-you-can-eat salad bars, concern quickly rises to the surface when Wilderness Watch shares a message on Facebook that big Bob or Henry are in trouble for some reason.

Those big bull elk are famous around the island now, but big herds are frequently seen by the side of Highway 18, especially at night, making driving dangerous.

According to Lake Cowichan Coun. Tim McGonigle, there have been meetings about the problem of what to do about wildlife incidents on the highway.

“For the safety of people along that route, we’re anticipating a future meeting with both [the Ministries of Transportation and Forests] on possible mitigation possibilities,” he reported at the Jan. 21 council meeting.

“We’ve talked about everything from wildlife overpasses to wildlife lights to identifying where the heavy wildlife trails are, for instance. We have some cameras out there right now trying to identify them.

“We were looking at meeting at UBCM with [B.C. Transportation] Minister [Claire] Trevena and unfortunately we weren’t able to get that booked.

“However, in September, at the time of that meeting, I had touched base with the RCMP local detachment. There had been nine local wildlife incidents up to that point and from September to the end of December there were several more, including one fatality. We want to make sure there is some opportunity for us to put forward an option for increased safety. Part of the problem is that, along the corridor there are private forest lands and private residences and that can have an impact along the roadway as well. But we’re going to look to see if we can come up with an answer with the two ministries and various elected people all sitting down to see if we can make it a little more safe for people.”

It was estimated by the forests ministry that approximately 500 elk are around the area “and they are spreading out along the corridor even up to Honeymoon Bay and Mesachie Lake. We’re seeing them in places we haven’t seen them before,” McGonigle said.

“You can put as many signs up as you want saying ‘elk for the next 20 kilometres’ but it’s sign pollution,” the councillor said, adding that there is a real need for something, particularly in the areas of Skutz Falls and Hill 60, because both people and wildlife are being affected.