Article by : John Chilibeck
Photo by : John Chilibeck
Most New Brunswickers assume government’s got our back when it comes to the most dangerous areas along our roads where there are frequent collisions with moose and other wildlife. That doesn’t seem to be the case. – David Coon
Under pressure from victims and their families, New Brunswick’s transportation minister says he’ll meet with Shediac officials to discuss the recent rash of injuries and deaths caused by vehicles crashing into moose.
But Bill Fraser says more wildlife fencing along Route 15 and other dangerous hotspots in eastern New Brunswick is only one possible solution, arguing that warning signs and brush cutting can also help avoid collisions.
“We’re going to be investing more next year in wildlife mitigation because we take safety very seriously,” the minister told reporters Thursday, without providing a breakdown of future funding. “We’re trying to catch up and doing the best we can.”
A number of horrific moose collisions have put pressure on the minister to do more. Local musician Martin Poirier was left paralyzed when his car hit one of the animals on June 5 on an unfenced section of Route 15.
And in September, Brian Carty, a popular professor at St. Thomas University, collided with one of the heavy animals on an unfenced section of the TransCanada Highway’s Route 2 near Memramcook. He died four days later in hospital.
Shediac Fire Chief Donald Cormier has called a stretch of the divided, four-lane highway between Dieppe and his town a “serious threat to public safety.”
He responded to Poirier’s accident and three other moose collisions earlier this year and has called for fencing, increased hunting and more public awareness.
Shediac Mayor Jacques LeBlanc and Green Party leader David Coon have also been pressuring Fraser to act.
In question period Thursday, Coon zeroed in on the fact the province has only added wildlife fencing over the last several years to new sections of highway. The last time fencing was added to an existing roadway was in 2011-12, on a different section of Route 2, under the previous Tory government.
“Most New Brunswickers assume government’s got our back when it comes to the most dangerous areas along our roads where there are frequent collisions with moose and other wildlife,” Coon told reporters afterwards. “That doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Fencing highways isn’t cheap. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure says it costs $100,000 to fence a single kilometre of highway. Underpasses that allow moose, deer and other wildlife to cross cost about $88,000 each.
And while the minister committed Thursday to meeting with the Shediac officials within the next two weeks so that he can examine their crash data – he said their information is probably more up-to-date than what his department is using – a moose expert warns it’s important to provide somewhere for the giant animals to cross highways.
“If you have a strip of land with a fenced barrier, and moose are reduced by hunting or by being struck on secondary roads, and there’s no new moose coming in to breed, you could eventually lose the moose population on one side of the fence,” said Graham Forbes, a professor of biodiversity and wildlife at the University of New Brunswick, in an interview.
Forbes has studied four underpasses built on Route 7 between Saint John and Fredericton when wildlife fencing was put up several years ago. He said the underpasses were expensive, but they do the job.
“The moose eventually got used to them and began crossing in greater numbers over the years, even the bull moose with the big antlers that might have felt hemmed in by going into an underpass. We saw many animals crossing, deer, bear, ducks, you name it. They work.”
In an interview Thursday, the Shediac mayor said he believed the same Route 7 model could work for his community.
“We need to protect humankind but at the same time be sensitive to the environment,” said LeBlanc, who wants to run for the Liberals in next year’s provincial election. “We can find solutions. It’s been done before.”