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Lessons learned from Banff National Park

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Naturalist presenter Tom Hurd and his struggle to balance wildlife values and human encroachment in Canada’s busiest national park

Located just 100 kilometres outside of Calgary, Banff National Park is visited by more than five million people annually.

The towns of Banff and Lake Louise inside of the park are growing, despite efforts to limit development, and towns bordering the park, namely Canmore and Exshaw, are booming.

Traffic volumes through the park on the Trans-Canada highway are also increasing, largely because of the continuing shift from rail shipping to trucking.

In 2000, the new Canada National Parks Act made it a priority to restore and maintain the ecological integrity of the park, ahead of all other uses and considerations.

As a wildlife biologist in Banff for the past 10 years, Tom Hurd manages a wide variety of wildlife research within the park with a primary focus on large mammals.

He is active in the project to restore ecological integrity, and is part of initiatives to provide safe large carnivore movement near urbanized areas, to provide safe wildlife crossings over high volume highways, and aversive conditioning to increase the wariness of bears and elk in populated areas.

Hurd will be in Whistler this weekend as part of the Federation of B.C. Naturalists’ autumn meeting. This Saturday, Sept. 21, he will be giving a presentation on "Managing for ecological integrity in Banff National Park: Is all of the ‘easy’ stuff done?"

His work is of special interest to other mountain towns with similar issues, and especially Whistler with its huge black bear population.

In the past two years, Banff National Park has broken new ground in the applied conservation biology to restore and reconnect diverse populations of large carnivores and herbivores, including grizzly and black bear, wolf, cougar, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison and beaver.

Because space is limited in the park, and both people and animals prefer the valley bottom areas, co-existence is a tricky concept. According to Hurd, "Co-existence with some degree of separation may represent a way through to the future, but defining the terms, conditions, and schedules for space-sharing between humans and wildlife is a new undertaking. Behaviour and distribution changes are expected of both ‘sides’."

In other words, it’s becoming necessary to start managing people as well as wildlife within natural areas, as long as our uses continue to overlap.

Hurd currently lives in Canmore with his wife, two kids and dog Barker, who recently survived a cougar attack.

The presentation will take place from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Millennium Place. Admission is by donation.

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