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Car versus elk collisions raising concern in the Cowichan Lake area

Residents want changes made to protect both the massive animals and the people colliding with them
Low light conditions along Highway 18 don’t give motorists much of a chance to avoid collisions with elk. (Malcolm Chalmers/Gazette file photo)

Motorized vehicles butting heads with Roosevelt elk might be a peculiarly Vancouver Island problem, but for at least one community it is a problem nonetheless

And while the number of elk crashes may be remaining consistent in the Cowichan Lake area, local officials say that number is consistently high, and something needs to be done to protect both the animals and humans involved.

It’s time to stop talking about it and start doing something, says Youbou resident Lisa Ketch.

She said the vehicle crashes involving the region’s beloved behemoths need to stop.

“The elk on the Highway 18 and Youbou Road are a serious issue,” Ketch said, noting she drives that route multiple times a day.

“It makes me crazy how people say slow down,” she said. “It has nothing to do with speed. The speed is 100km/hr so go the speed limit. It is 100 per cent a Highways issue.”

Ketch said there needs to be fencing along the entire highway, similar to how it is up-Island “and more lighting would be a start”.

Something needs to be done, she said, because while the locals know where the elk tend to be, it’s without a doubt, a growing tourist hot spot and tourists simply don’t know.

“The elk can literally jump out of the ditch and suddenly they are there,” she said. “I count a dead elk on more fingers than I have.”

Exacerbating the problem is that the elk population is growing.

Ketch said in the ’80s there were fewer elk and they stayed higher up in the mountains.

“It was nothing like today’s numbers,” she said. “It’s is not a healthy situation and something needs to be done. This will be costly, but how many people and elk have to die first before the government fixes the issue? Yes we live in their space, but if you allow growth, you need to protect the surroundings. Killing elk and humans is not protecting anyone.”

Lake Cowichan RCMP Const. David Prak said public perception that this has been a particularly bad winter has largely been been fueled by the pandemic. In each of 2022 and in 2020 there were 22 instances of vehicles colliding with the Vancouver Island’s largest land animal. In 2021 there were 13 but Prak said that lower number is an anomaly and simply because there were significantly fewer vehicles on the roads given the COVID-19 protocols in place.

Even so, Lake Cowichan council is still looking at ways to limit that type of dangerous interaction.

“There has been a rash of motor vehicle incidents involving elk along Highway 18 and out towards Youbou and a number of residents have requested something be implemented to limit these crashes,” said Mayor Tim McGonigle.

“We will look into a meeting with the appropriate ministries to do more to address these crashes before another fatality occurs and families are affected by that.”

A public meeting was suggested and may be scheduled once more information [has been gathered] and appropriate people have been approached.

RELATED: Elk accident on Highway 18 leads to calls for more lighting

RELATED: Vancouver Island elk making a comeback

Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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