Demand cleanup of abandoned telegraph wire that is killing wildlife in Pacific Northwest

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The forests of the Pacific Northwest are one of the last remaining wilderness areas, and people from all over the world come here to experience their natural beauty. Those of us who live here are understandably proud of our heritage, but such pride should not blind us to a tragic reality. Telegraph wires left behind after the Yukon Telegraph was abandoned in the 1940s and 50s continue to trap moose and cariboo, leading to slow agonizing death or predation by bears against whom the animals have no fighting chance. This is nothing short of animal cruelty through inadvertent neglect. 

 The recent discovery of man-made snares in the Kitimat river valley has shown that this wire can be used to kill wildlife deliberately. The February 9th article in the online edition of the Terrace Standard shows a photograph of a snare that is clearly made of old telegraph wire: https://www.terracestandard.com/local-news/1000-reward-offered-for-conviction-of-snaring-culprit/

Cleanup efforts have been made here and there on a local level, more so in the Yukon than in British Columbia, but without responsibility and logistical support from Canada's Federal government the problem will not be solved on a meaningful scale: the Yukon Telegraph is a total of 3,000 km of wire, not counting the subsidiary branches, and most of the wire is still in the backcountry. 


                                                      HISTORY

A network of telegraph lines spanning British Columbia and the Yukon was built at the turn of the twentieth century by what was then the Dominion Government Telegraph Service using wire that does not corrode or crumble. The telegraph lines were abandoned, but not removed, in the 1940s and 1950s. The wire is of very high quality: #8 wire made of galvanized iron and about 5 millimeters thick. It shows no signs of corrosion or crumbling, and as strong now as it was 100 years ago when first installed. When the wire sags to the ground, either from trees falling on it or due to collapse of the original poles, it ends up in a perfect position to snag and trap moose and cariboo. The name “Yukon Telegraph” refers not to the location of the lines but to their destination: from Ashcroft, BC toward the Yukon where the line extends to the north of Dawson City. The main line stretches for 3,000 kilometers, and this does not include subsidiary branches. The Canol Trail and its telephone/telegraph lines are not part of the Yukon Telegraph, but the wire is of the same quality and durability. 

 

                                    PROVEN DANGER TO WILDLIFE 

The photograph that opens this petition was taken by Bart de Haas in 1988 somewhere between Atlin and Telegraph Creek, only one of many sad tributes to animals who suffered and died without witnesses. You do not need to be an animal rights activist to shudder at the deadly impact of the telegraph wire on wildlife. From Bill Miller’s book “Wires in the Wilderness” (Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd., 2009) I learned that the problem of wildlife entrapment in abandoned wire has been known as early as 1941, when the Yukon Telegraph started falling into disuse. Some sections of wire sag to the ground, others remain suspended on trees. The wire is extremely durable, and unlike tree branches, it does not break when a moose or cariboo snags it with his antlers. The more an animal struggles, the more he gets entangled, as is clear from the images in the media links below. A young moose found trapped in wire in the Yukon in September 2015 was put out of his suffering relatively quickly, but he was found in close proximity to an established trail. WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/moose-caught-in-telegraph-wire-euthanized-by-yukon-wildlife-officer-1.3228290  The issue of moose and cariboo entrapment in abandoned wire has been known for years in the North West Territories, where the federal government finally put together the Canol Trail Remediation Project, an effort that includes cleanup of telephone wire that had been trapping wildlife. In 2016 alone, crews removing the wire on the Canol Trail pulled 27 moose racks from the wire. When a wild animal dies as a result of human interference in its habitat, its death is no more acceptable than deliberate and obvious acts of animal cruelty. 

 

                        CREATING JOBS, TEACHING SKILLS FOR LIFE 

It is reasonable to wonder about the cost of cleanup, but ultimately this is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Rather than being a financial liability to the federal government, a cleanup project can bring much-needed jobs to the North, including First Nations communities. The Federal government has recently added $3.4 billion to the $8.4 billion already allocated to First Nations, to be spread over five years. Even a small fraction of these resources can bring immense long-term benefits if used wisely. No monetary value can be put on development of employable skills and a sense of accomplishing something truly meaningful especially when a community's own natural resources are at stake. The Canol Trail cleanup has “has created new opportunities with lasting benefits" for residents of the communities involved: http://www.iti.gov.nt.ca/en/newsroom/celebrating-canol-trail-wire-clean  The workers received training in chainsaw, ATV, and helicopter safety, and some were trained as medics for the crew. 

 

                                 RESPONSIBILITY FOR CLEANUP

An excerpt from my correspondence with West Coast Environmental Law, a non-profit organization in Vancouver, BC:

Responsibility depends largely on whether the telegraph wire was installed as an in-province line or between provinces. If the latter, then I would say that the federal government is responsible, as it would have been considered a federal work. You write that it was installed by the Dominion government, so that would suggest that it would have been a federal work. However, it would be important to be able to document this.

That being said, legally it may be difficult to force action on a problem that has existed for more than 100 years, and political pressure is probably more realistic. [emphasis by me]

Let us make this happen. Since the area in question is visited by people from all over the world and constitutes humanity's natural heritage, it is fair that this petition be open to anyone with a passion for protecting wildlife. 

 



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