Watch for caribou, Alaska Highway drivers warned after bad winter for roadkill

Yukon's environment department is warning drivers about caribou on the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse, after a number of recent road kills.

12 animals have been hit and killed this winter on the stretch of road between Judas Creek and Jakes Corner.

Lars Jessup, caribou biologist for the Southern Lakes region, says that portion of the Alaska highway intersects part of the Carcross caribou herd's wintering grounds.

"We've been noticing quite a bit of caribou activity in that area, all the way back to November," he said. He added that the herd is typically there every winter.

Most of the animals hit in recent months have been cows, which Jessup says can have a significant impact on the population of the herd. In an average year, seven animals might be killed.

"There are more cow caribou naturally in a herd than there are bulls, so often cows tend to be hit on the highway. And their mortality is more impactful on the herd."

Jessup says the Carcross caribou herd has been the focus of a recovery effort since the early 1990s. He says there have been ongoing efforts to grow the population, including "a lot of sacrifice by First Nations in terms of voluntarily withholding harvest."

He says the last count of the herd, in 2008, showed about 800 animals. That means 12 dead caribou represents about 1.5 per cent of the herd — "which is significant," Jessup said.

Jessup is asking drivers to follow the speed limit and to slow down when they see the warning signs the government has put up. 

He adds motorists should make sure their headlights are clean, and to watch for caribou tracks on the side of the road.