Province begins argument in lawsuit
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had research 10 years ago linking moose-vehicle collisions to the level of moose hunting in the province, said Garry Norris, former deputy minister for Tourism, Culture and Recreation.
He testified, as part of a class-action lawsuit about moose-vehicle collisions, that research conducted by his department in 2003 indicated “a clear relationship between moose-vehicle collisions and moose harvests.” The department handled wildlife management at the time.
Norris told the court that in 2003 Danny Williams’ new government had serious intentions to develop policy on moose-collision reduction. The policy would revolve around increasing hunting licences if scientific research confirmed the effectiveness of the method.
However, with the government facing a major deficit, the policy’s development slowed and was put on the back burner, said Norris.
“To be blunt, we were in dire straits,” he said.
Norris continues his testimony today.
The province’s lawyers called Norris as a witness as they began to argue their side of the case Thursday. The lawsuit involves 135 plaintiffs who claim that from 2003 to 2011 the government was negligent for not doing more to reduce about 700 moose-vehicle accidents a year.
The plaintiffs’ side of the case came to a close Thursday after the dramatic cross-examination of wildlife collision expert Tony Clevenger.
Clevenger, a Montana State University research scientist based in Alberta, had testified the province’s policies to reduce moose-vehicle collisions were inadequate and based on flawed science.
During cross-examination, however, the province’s lawyer forced Clevenger to admit his report on government policy contained several incorrect citations, overstated claims and a mathematical error.
There’s so much highway mitigation work going on outside of Newfoundland, it’s incredible. But nothing is happening here, and it’s really striking. Tony Clevenger
“There was a problem with a couple of citations,” Clevenger said. “And in retrospect I would go back and tone it down a bit.”
But he stood by his report Thursday, saying his criticism of the government’s mitigation methods — signs, public awareness and brush clearing — was based on the most up-to-date science.
“There’s so much highway mitigation work going on outside of Newfoundland, it’s incredible,” he said. “But nothing is happening here, and it’s really striking.”
“I think if someone from Transportation and Works went to this international conference on ecology and transportation that we have every two years … and gave a case study about what’s happening here, people would think they literally just crawled out from under a rock.”
Clevenger advocates fencing sections of highway that are identified as moose collision “hot spots” and using radar detection systems to alert drivers when moose get inside the fenced sections.
Since the case began more than a week ago the court has heard from five witnesses for the plaintiffs and two for the defence. The province’s lawyers are expected to call four more witnesses.