Dead caribou a warning to slow down

It was a deadly weekend for wildlife on the highways near Whitehorse, and Environment Yukon is reminding drivers to slow down.

It was a deadly weekend for wildlife on the highways near Whitehorse, and Environment Yukon is reminding drivers to slow down.

Between Sunday and Monday, one deer, one moose and one caribou were all killed in vehicle collisions in the Whitehorse area, according to Matt Clarke, a Southern Lakes regional biologist with Environment Yukon.

The dead caribou was part of the Carcross herd, which is wintering in the area.

Between November and April, the caribou come down out of the mountains into lower lying pine forests to graze on lichen through the winter. Unfortunately, that winter range is crossed by a number of busy highways.

“On the highways you’re going to see them anywhere from Jake’s Corner to Squanga Lake, from Jake’s to Judas Creek and the Lewes River Bridge, and on the Tagish Road and Carcross Road as well,” Clarke said.

He said that while the animals will often be seen along the roadways, they aren’t necessarily accustomed to swiftly moving vehicles.

“I wouldn’t say they know what to do with traffic. You’ll see them sometimes in the ditches or on the shoulders. They’re not familiar with traffic. The big thing is drivers need to slow down,” he said.

The Carcross herd has been under careful protection and a harvesting ban for more than 20 years, Clarke said, making the death of any animal a serious blow to the herd.

In the 1990s, Environment Yukon estimated the Carcross herd’s numbers at around 400. Twenty years later it’s doubled to around 800, but that’s still a precarious position for the animals, Clarke said.

Every year there are between six and eight Carcross caribou killed in car collisions. Further down the road towards Watson Lake, that number climbs to around 15 from the Little Rancheria herd.

There have already been three deaths from the Carcross herd this year, and 13 from the Little Rancheria herd further south.

Anyone involved in or witness to a collision is asked to contact Environment Yukon’s toll-free line as soon as possible at 1-800-661-0525 so conservation officers can get to the scene before the carcass is carried away by someone else.

Because the Carcross herd is still under a hunting ban, permits are required to possess the meat, regardless of how it was killed. It’s generally not a problem, Clarke said, except with protected animals.

“With caribou it’s a conservation concern. We don’t want people killing them in another way and then claiming it was road kill,” he said.

Clarke said the most dangerous times are mornings and evenings, when people are commuting to and from work in the dark.

“Obviously that’s going to reduce your ability to detect animals in the ditches or with enough time to stop when the roads are slippery. That’s where driving slower comes in,” Clarke said.

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