Conservation biologist Sabine Dietz e-mailed Warktimes this month to tell a sad story about a family of river otters that were sighted and photographed several times this summer in the Sackville Waterfowl Park.
Dietz, who is also a environmental consultant, reported that on her way to the Farmer’s Market on August 10th, she found two of the otters (an adult and a pup) dead on the side of the TransCanada Highway.
They had been trying to cross from the Waterfowl Park to the Tantramar Wetlands Centre behind the regional high school.
“This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that animals on their way from one habitat to the other get killed,” Dietz wrote.
The otters were killed near signs erected on either side of the TransCanada that caution trail users not to cross the highway, but to detour around it using local roads.
As the well-worn pathways beside the signs show, however, people, who ignore the signs, and animals, who can’t read them, do try to cross the highway where 14,000 vehicles speed by every day.
“It’s a sad story,” Dietz wrote in her e-mail, “with a relatively simple, albeit expensive solution: a culvert so that any creatures wanting to go from one human-created habitat to the other, can safely pass.”
She points out that wildlife culverts and highway overpasses have already been built in many places including in Banff National Park where such crossings have reduced the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions by about 80 per cent.
Using Banff as a model, Parks Canada also built wildlife crossings on a 15 kilometre stretch of highway in Kootenay National Park.
Dietz acknowledges that building a culvert under the TransCanada is not something the town can do, but the provincial and federal governments could build a passageway between the two wetland habitats.
“The Town can certainly push, and has a responsibility to do so, since we are the ones that supported the creation of those systems,” she writes. “It’s something our town and our citizens can advocate for.”
Meantime, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is embarking on the next stage of its project to measure and ultimately reduce roadkill within the Chignecto Isthmus.
During a 15-week research project last summer, the Nature Conservancy’s summer intern and Dalhousie masters student, Amelia Barnes, recorded high rates of roadkill on highways 134 and 15 between Moncton and Shediac in New Brunswick as well as on highway 6 between Amherst and Pugwash in Nova Scotia.
“The most common animals killed by cars were porcupine (116) and raccoon (113), followed by skunk (28) snowshoe hare (25), white-tailed deer (8), red fox (4), beaver (4) and black bear (3),” its recent news release states. “There were also many types of songbirds and amphibians killed.”
“We’ve really just started to collect the information on wildlife getting hit,” says Paula Noel, the Nature Conservancy’s program director for New Brunswick.
“Over time, we’re hoping that knowing where on these highways there are a lot of wildlife getting hit, we can work with the Department of Transportation,” she adds, “so that they can look at ways that over time they can improve the roads so that they keep the wildlife off of them.”
She says that while hitting large animals such as moose and deer is an obvious safety hazard, swerving to avoid smaller animals can also lead to serious accidents.
Noel says installing wildlife culverts would be one possible solution as roads are repaired and upgraded including when modifications may be needed to protect the TransCanada Highway from rising sea levels.
Noel says, the Nature Conservancy is looking for volunteers in the Sackville and Amherst areas to monitor secondary roads for roadkill using an iNaturalist app on their smartphones.
“The volunteers that we’re looking for are people who are going to commit to kind of adopting a section of one of those secondary roads and having a regular survey of it,” Noel says. “So, maybe once a week or a couple of times a month just going out and doing a survey up and down that road and recording what they see.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer can call the Nature Conservancy of Canada at 1-506-450-6010 ext. 3209.
To read the full news release on the Conservancy’s Wildpaths Maritime Project, click here.