Sandra MacDougall’s husband and daughter once hit a moose while driving along Hwy 2 near Bowden.
Luckily, they were not injured, said MacDougall, a biology instructor at Red Deer College. But since there were two moose and two vehicles involved in that accident about a decade ago, the first vehicle “did not fare as well” as the one her husband was driving, she recalled.
The near catastrophe sparked her interest in better understanding the impact of roads on wildlife and public safety.
MacDougall learned that every year in Alberta, more than 300 people are injured and six people are killed in vehicle/animal collisions — and these numbers are rising as roads and more traffic expand into animal territory.
The collisions also result in an estimated $280 million in insurance, hospital, disability and highway-cleanup costs.
In 2008, Red Deer College hosted a workshop to discuss the problem. The Alberta Wildlife Watch Program, launched provincially this year, addresses recommendations that came out of that workshop.
Under the new initiative, highway maintenance contractors and government workers will use a mobile application to report carcasses along Alberta highways. Live animal sightings will also be reported, so the government better understands where animals are crossing roads successfully.
The observations go into a database to help pinpoint collision prone locations. Spots where roadkill is sighted are pegged for discussions about how to mitigate future animal-vehicle contact through better road design, fencing or other options.
Stephen Legaree, the program manager who works for Alberta Transportation, said overpasses or underpasses could be constructed, long grasses can be mowed, or animal detectors can be put in the area. If movement is detected, signs along the highway can caution motorists to be extra careful. “A lot of different tools are available.”
MacDougall, an academic advisor who helped write the program guide, believes the system will allow more information to be collected on how traffic impacts a wide range of species — from the large-bodied animals that present the greatest human danger, to a wide range of smaller wildlife, including species-at-risk.
“I don’t think people are aware of the magnitude of these collisions,” which make up about half of all accidents on rural roads, added MacDougall, who hopes to raise public awareness of the importance of looking out for wildlife while driving.
Dawn and dusk are prime times for animal activity, as are spring and fall. Wildlife also tends to migrate along river valleys.