Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Fallout from the Quest for Gold

A century after the gold fever changed the landscape of British Columbia, Alaska, and Yukon, the lust for this metal continues to kill. But this time it’s galvanized iron that’s doing the deadly work. A network of telegraph lines was built at the turn of the twentieth century using wire that does not corrode or crumble. The sad irony of its durability is that when wire sags or falls to the ground, either from trees falling on it or due to collapse of the original poles, it ends up in the perfect position to snag and trap moose (and cariboo further north). My husband came upon this silent tragedy as he foraged for lobster mushrooms east of Sand Lake in the Nass Valley north of Terrace, BC. Trained as an electrician, he recognized the type of wire right away: number 8 galvanized wire about 5 millimeters thick. On a one-kilometer stretch of abandoned telegraph line he found three moose skeletons tangled in the wire, some older and covered in moss and others more fresh. He wanted to cry, and was glad I was not with him to see the devastation.

In our research aided by Bill Miller’s “Wires in the Wilderness” we identified this stretch of telegraph line as part of the Stewart branch of the Yukon Telegraph built in 1910-1911. From this book I was shocked to learn that the problem of wildlife entrapment in abandoned wire has been known at least since 1941. The wire, a small segment of which I saw myself closer to the highway, is bright and shiny as on the day it was installed. The metal used to galvanize it is toxic enough to cut an inch-wide swatch of bare soil through the mossy forest floor. Having no camera or cell phone on him my husband was unable to document what he found, but the picture in an article from September 2015 is representative. WARNING: while not graphic per se, the photo is heartrending. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/moose-caught-in-telegraph-wire-euthanized-by-yukon-wildlife-officer-1.3228290

This moose in Yukon was put out of his suffering relatively quickly, but countless others die slow agonizing deaths that will continue as long as the wire remains on the ground. Reading this article brought me mixed feelings of sorrow and relief - sorrow to realize how widespread this problem is, and relief to know that efforts, no matter how slow and inadequate, are being made to correct it. Misery loves not so much company as solidarity. On my part I shall work to bring the problem to the attention of the media and the BC government, and if it comes to that - maybe organize a volunteer campaign to go into the bush and remove the wire. On your part you can help by spreading the word, and if you have experience with this or similar issues, please share it or help me get in touch with people who might be willing to help. Let’s join forces, and I will keep you, my readers, appraised of the developments.