First Nation says it needs help to remove old telegraph wire

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation says the community needs financial support to clean up old telegraph wire along the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad between Whitehorse and Skagway.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation says the community needs financial support to clean up old telegraph wire along the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad between Whitehorse and Skagway, after a moose was euthanized last week.

Natalie Leclerc, the natural resource manager for the First Nation, estimates it would take $40,000 to $60,000 “just to get started” on removing the wire, which belongs to the railway company.

Last Friday, a dog musher came across a live bull moose tangled in the wire between Lewes Lake and Emerald Lake, about three kilometres from the South Klondike Highway. Conservation officer Ken Knutson said the animal had likely been trapped there for 24 to 48 hours. The wire was wrapped around its antlers, body, and back legs.

Knutson said much of the surrounding vegetation was destroyed, evidence of how hard the moose had struggled to free itself.

By the time he arrived, he said, the moose had “no spark left in him at all.”

“He was not at all stressed by our approach,” Knutson said. Because it was the middle of the night, he didn’t have access to rescue resources that might have saved the animal. Even if he had, Knutson wasn’t sure the moose would have survived, since it was so exhausted. He decided the most humane course of action was to kill the animal.

Knutson said the moose had been a big, healthy male, likely weighing in at around 1,100 pounds.

Leclerc explained that this is a recurring problem along the old telegraph route, which runs parallel to the railway. She said the First Nation typically comes across an animal tangled in the wire every couple of years.

In many areas, the wire is still strung on telephone poles. But in some places, it’s broken or sagging close to the ground. Leclerc said some of the wire lying on the ground had previously been covered with piles of dirt, but those berms have been eroding away, leaving the wire exposed once more.

In late August, two Carcross/Tagish First Nation employees were hired to clean up some of the wire. But Leclerc said it’s labour-intensive, costly work. Many locations along the route can only be accessed by boat or ATV, and the First Nation has to pay for machinery, gas, First Aid training, and proper disposal of the wire.

“We need a substantial amount of funding,” Leclerc said.

So far, the Carcross Tagish Renewable Resoures Council has provided some money for the work. But Leclerc said she’s not aware of any funding from the White Pass railway company.

“We’re trying to get more commitment from White Pass to clean this up,” she said. “They seem to support our initiative verbally.”

The Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, a government-funded summer employment program, sent a group of students to help out with the clean-up for a week in late August.

Leclerc said White Pass supported that initiative, on condition that the First Nation assume liability for any incidents.

In an email statement to the News, White Pass representatives said they have been “actively working with the Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Carcross Tagish Renewable Resources Council in an effort to clean up downed telegraph line.

“Our maintenance of way crew collects and removes wire when it is discovered,” the statement continued. “We regret this very unfortunate incident on Friday. This instance reinforces the urgency of clean-up moving forward.”

Leclerc said she’s been in touch with the company since the moose was discovered on Friday. She’s hopeful that this latest incident will spur White Pass to provide funding for the clean-up.

“The emails were flying this morning, so it’s on their radar,” she said. “We can’t keep losing resources like this.”

The federal government is currently making plans to clean up downed telephone wire along the Canol Trail in the Northwest Territories, which has been a hazard to humans and wildlife for years.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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