April 15, 2015 by Leah Collins Lipsett - THE CANADIAN PRESS
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is continuing to risk lives by not including fencing in their new moose management plan, says a group that lobbies to reduce vehicle crashes involving moose.
The five-year initiative is designed to minimize conflicts between people and moose on the island of Newfoundland while maintaining the moose population and continuing to allow for hunting.
But Linda Bishop, secretary of the Save Our People Action Committee, said the organization is “very, very disappointed” with the government’s response, because public safety is still at risk.
“The sad part is, they haven’t taken any of our ideas,” she said. “Fencing should be the priority.”
Sixteen kilometres of roadside wildlife fencing were installed on the west coast of Newfoundland two years ago as a pilot project, but Monday’s announcement doesn’t include immediate plans for building more.
David Brazil, the province’s minister of transportation and works, said fencing is under consideration.
“We’re very close to moving to the next level of fencing, and we’ve even carved out where we think the next part of this project would be,” he said Tuesday.
Brazil said issues like Newfoundland’s challenging terrain and where moose would cross roads require more data collection before fences can be fully implemented on the island.
But after seeing fences work so well in other locations, including Alberta and New Brunswick, Bishop is sick of waiting.
“We’re studied to death,” said Bishop, who collided with a moose in 2004 and has been unable to work since due to her injuries. “Action is needed to save lives, and it seems like (Monday’s) announcement was the moose taking priority over human life again.”
Ches Crosbie, a St. John’s lawyer who launched a class-action lawsuit against the province in 2011 on behalf of more than 100 moose-vehicle collision victims, is more sympathetic to the plan in light of the government’s tight budget.
“At this point in time, they’re doing a reasonable job given the restraints that they’re operating under,” he said.
“It would be nice to see the solution of fencing implemented. Had government really turned its attention to this issue years ago, then it may be that we’d have a fairly extensive program of fencing in place now today, and the highways would be safer.
“(But) I understand why they don’t have the money, or say they can’t spend money right now on fencing.”
Crosbie approves of the plan’s inclusion of two “Moose Reduction Zones,” which are 18-kilometre-square areas of land on the shoulder of the Trans-Canada Highway. One zone is between Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, and the other is between St. John’s and Clarenville.
Extra moose-hunting licences will be available for the experimental zones, and the rifle season will open earlier than usual in those areas this fall.
“(It’s) something that we actually recommended all the way through the litigation. It’s a low-cost or probably no-cost option, so that makes sense,” Crosbie said.
Crosbie credits the class-action lawsuit, which he appealed last September, as being the impetus for the province’s new plan. The appeal court has reserved its decision in the appeal.
The island of Newfoundland has the highest concentration of moose in the world. Between 500 and 600 moose-vehicle crashes are reported annually there, with five to 10 serious injuries per year and an average of one human death.