Poor research, poor advice on moose: witness

Mark Rendell Special to The Telegram
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Highway fencing, underpasses, accurate accident reporting — these should have been serious subjects of research, said Ronald Penney, former city manager of St. John’s.

But the civil servants charged with developing the province’s moose-vehicle collision policy did not, he said, act in a “rational and reasonable” way when responding to the problem.

“Their quality of the research was very poor,” he said, “and, as a result, the advice given to government wasn’t based on good information.”

Penney testified Friday as a public policy expert in a class-action lawsuit against the province. The provincial government is accused of negligence in its handling of moose-collision mitigation.

It wasn’t until 2011, when then-premier Kathy Dunderdale ordered a review of moose-collision policy, that a number of measures like highway fencing were considered as policy options.

“For the first time we’re seeing a recognition by ministers that the approaches they were using were not working,” Penney said.

Prior to 2011, the province focused on public education campaigns, highway signs and moose population control. This policy, said Penney, was based on research from 2001 — the Joyce Mahoney report — that argued moose density had little to do with collisions and the most effective way to stop collisions was to educate drivers.

Penney could not comment on the scientific accuracy of the Mahoney report, but referred to newer research that suggested the report was seriously flawed. His charge that public servants didn’t exercise sufficient care boiled down to the fact they had access to different research but did not take it seriously, he said.   

In 2003, St. John’s hosted a conference on wildlife mitigation organized by the Transportation Association of Canada.

There were a number of presentations at the conference on mitigation strategies, said Penney. This included one from Dr. Tony Clevenger, who studied highway fencing in Banff, Alta., and found a 96 per cent reduction in wildlife related mortalities.  

People from the departments of Environment and Conservation and Transportation and Works attended the conference, said Penney.

“So as early as 2003, public officials in Newfoundland were exposed to this kind of research.”

“One would have thought they’d realize the Joyce Mahoney paper doesn’t represent the most up to date knowledge and ask, ‘do we need to change the advice we’re giving to government?’” said Penney. “And they didn’t.”

Several emails from 2006 submitted in Penney’s report suggests the minister of transportation and works became aware of the fencing projects in New Brunswick and asked his deputy minister to look into pilot projects.

The emails suggest the deputy minister got in touch with someone at the Department of Environment. No more was heard about fencing projects.  

“Divided responsibility makes it harder to deal with the issue unless on department takes the lead,” said Penney. “Which never seemed to happen here.”

The case will continue on Monday with  Clevenger expected to testify about wildlife collision management.

 

mark.rendell@tc.tc

Organizations: Transportation Association of Canada, Department of Environment

Geographic location: Banff, Newfoundland, New Brunswick

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  • Paul
    April 05, 2014 - 08:36

    I would like to know the actual stats as to how many of these accidents are indeed drivers fault (too fast for road conditions, etc) and how many of them were simply unavoidable because the alders came up to the pavement, and so on. It is heart wrenching to hear the stories from parents who lost a child, wife who lost a husband, someone who has become a quadrapelic...but we have to beware emotional blackmail...we do not know what accidents were 'avoidable' and what were not. this is why I just don't think that a class action lawsuit is appropriate because the range of causal factors in hundreds of accidents will range from 'driver's fault' to 'it could not be avoided'...in my opinion these should be judge separately to determine if government has any real responsibility. why should someone who caused their own accident by driving too fast at night (don't tell me this is not a common factor) be compensated by government? however, if someone was driving with due diligence but struck a moose that hopped out of the alders that were up against the road...maybe they do deserve compensation. but it can not be a blanket compensation for all. I have been driving for 33 years , all over Newfoundland. I had 2 very close calls with moose and one was definitely my fault (too fast at dusk) the other was probably a combination...but speed was still a factor...even though the moose came out of the headlights of a passing car, I was driving too fast. Other than that, everyone who drives in NL knows that moose are a hazard that they must watch out for and to drive accordingly. next thing, we'll have a class action for people who hydroplaned on the highway. As frustrating as 'water on the road' is, its something you have to watch for and drive accordingly. so the whole idea of a class action makes little sense to me.