Provincial officials are warning Peace Region residents that they can expect more animal encounters as the winter goes on, either on the highways or near their homes.
Leonard Sielecki, a wildlife issues specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, said that his organization typically sees more deer and moose collisions within the winter months from October until February.
"We see more deer because of the rut and changing winter conditions," said Sielecki.
Jeff Gintner, inspector with the wildlife conservation in the Peace Region, said that more moose are likely to come out to seek out food.
"It's not easy (for property owners) to lock up a tree," he said. "Moose eat young growth…what we’ll see over next couple of months is a situation where residents will start to see wildlife in places where they’re not used to.”
This increase of moose coming out can lead to more accidents with them on the road.
Sielecki said that many animals also come to highways for to drink ditch water, or forage for wildlife along highways. Some animals also come to lick the salt that is on the highway.
These animals are typically deer, moose, and elk, which are the animals the Ministry of Transportation is most concerned about.
This makes highway driving more dangerous for both motorists and animals.
According to the Ministry of Transportation figures, approximately 40 deer were reported hit in collisions monthly from October to February from 2002 to 2011 across the Peace Region. On an average month, that number was about 30.
Moose were also hit more frequently, with about 15 moose hit on a monthly average from October to February from 2002 to 2011. On an average month, that number was about 10.
Highway contractors give these numbers to the province, but due to delays in tallying the collisions, the final numbers were not yet available for November or December, said Sielecki. Thankfully, for October no moose were hit during collisions, and only 18 deers were reported hit the Peace Region.
However, that could change once the final numbers come in for 2012 and the first months of 2013.
Some motorists across the Peace Region are reporting seeing multiple dead animals strewn across the highway, some of them there for days.
Gintner also said that, driving down near his own rural home, he has seen three quarters of a herd of about a dozen deer wiped out. Many of these animals have lost their fear of crossing highways, or will go near spillage from nearby granaries.
“Animals will use the easiest routes of transfer,” he said. “It’s easier to walk on side of the road than two feet of snow.”
Gintner said this year could see more wildlife-human interactions. This summer, parts of the Peace Region experienced a drought, then a higher than average snowfall. This means that animals will have to go further and further to search for food, potentially closer to human sites.
He urged motorists to use caution on highways. If the worst should happen and animals are accidentally are killed, they are urged to call the contractor to pick up these animals.
In the South Peace, that number is 1-800-667-2322 for Caribou Road Services. In the North Peace, that number is 1-800-883-6688.
Gintner said that unless there is conclusive evidence that the driver intentionally hit the animal, the driver who hit the animal will not be held liable.
The British Columbia Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) also advises that these calls should be made as soon as possible, to avoid other predatory animals coming to eat the remains and end up hit by another vehicle.
Sielecki said that that the B.C. Ministry of Transportation is working with other western provinces, including Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, to come up with solutions.
“We’re all trying to find solutions that work across the country and in regional areas,” he added.
In the past, they have tried repellants to scare animals away, but that has created difficulties for some.
“(Repellants are) not an easy product to use,” he said. “There’s all sorts of implications, especially human health…we want to be careful that anything we put doesn’t cause any problems for people with allergies.”
If moose or other animals come near a rural residence, Gintner urged residents to harass them until they leave.
“Bang pots and pans, use slingshots, or throw snowballs,” he said. “Hanging bars of soap repel deer.”
However, when doing so, people should watch to make sure that this treatment doesn’t cause the animals to become too aggressive.
“This harassment should always be done in a safe manner and with an escape route,” Gintner added. “It’s often a fine line between adequate and excessive deterrent. The important thing is that the animals are made to feel unwelcome and that the method of deterrent be varied so animals do not become habituated.”
He encouraged residents to call call 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) if public safety is at risk or property damage is ongoing.