About an hour’s drive north of Haines Junction, motorists are treated to a breathtaking view of Thechàl Dhâl’ rising up from the flats of the ’A’ą̈y Chù’. However, the mountainous view is not the only reason to pay extra attention in this area. Rounding the curve of the highway under the base of Thechàl Dhâl’, vehicles may encounter Dallʼs sheep. This is not an ideal spot for sheep to linger—tight curves and a narrow shoulder bordered by steep cliffs and drop-offs mean vehicles often must slow or swerve to avoid sheep, creating a situation that can be hazardous for both motorists and wildlife.
Why would Dall’s sheep choose to congregate on the highway surface with so much natural, open habitat on the mountain above them? A possible motivator is one that draws ungulates to roadsides all over the country, the concentration of salt on the road. Over the winter, Dall’s sheep survive in harsh conditions with very little access to nutritious food, which causes their bodies to become depleted of the minerals needed for growing horns and producing young in the spring. Natural mineral licks exist on Thechàl Dhâl’ and are attended regularly by sheep looking to replenish these important minerals. They may also gather along this stretch of highway looking to access sedge meadows, or water sources near the shoreline of Kluane Lake, or they may be forced toward the highway by the constraints of the surrounding topography affecting how they move through their local habitat.
This stretch of highway equally tempts travellers to stop for a close-up photo of the iconic Dall’s sheep. The frequency of “sheep jams”—haphazardly parked cars amongst herds of wary sheep—has been increasing in this location during peak season. This situation is dangerous for both motorists and sheep.
Concern peaked when a single accident in 2018 killed eight Dall’s sheep, which is a significant portion of the Thechàl Dhâl’ nursery population. More losses like this could affect the persistence of the entire population. Motivated by this event, Parks Canada, Kluane First Nation, Government of Yukon, the Kluane National Park Management Board and the Dän Keyi Renewable Resources Council have been working to reduce the odds of vehicle-sheep collisions in this area.
Education campaigns have been launched onsite and in nearby communities, including large digital message boards, education posters, pamphlets and advertisements targeting motorists to remind them to slow down and be aware in the area. The various levels of government are also actively working together to identify ways to reduce the number of sheep drawn to the highway. Ultimately, by changing both sheep and motorist behaviour, the hope is to greatly reduce the risk to both Dall’s sheep and motorists in this location.
Next time you find yourself passing this iconic Yukon location, slow down and watch for sheep. If you are lucky enough to get a close-up sighting of the animal, consider both motorist and sheep safety in your decision to stop for a photo. Drive safely and enjoy the view!