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Right of Passage

Safely and efficiently moving people and wildlife on Banff’s section of the Trans-Canada Highway and beyond

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With this information, parks staff continually modify crossings to seem as comfortable and as natural as possible for the diverse wildlife that depend on them for to roam freely through the park.

The 50-metre-wide overpasses that come with a price tag of $2.5 million dollars each contain several natural features that attempt to blend into the natural landscape. Fifteen-metre banked walls on either side block traffic out of sight and nearby native plants and soils are planted along the crossings to camouflage into the landscape. Where feasible, some underpasses mask the overhead noise of traffic with running water as animals are more comfortable with crossings containing creeks.

With up to 24,000 cars a day on that section of the Trans-Canada in summer months, the highway is currently undergoing another major expansion from two to four lanes from Lake Louise’s Castle Junction all the way to the B.C. border, which will involve building an additional 16 underpasses and two new overpasses.

Speaking with Tony Clevenger and Cathy Gill of communications for the Banff Wildlife Crossings Project of Parks Canada, Pique Newsmagazine got a better insight on the project’s successes, challenges and what lay ahead.

 

Pique: Since construction how many animal crossings have taken place on or through the 24 over/underpasses and what animals frequent them the most?

 

Parks Canada: In the past 11 years of monitoring, 11 species of large mammals have used the crossings more than 95,000 times. Elk and deer use the crossing most. This is a result of these two species being most abundant in the Bow Valley, not an indication of greater preference by them or avoidance by other species. All large mammals in Banff National Park use the crossings regularly.

 

Pique: Have there been any new trends recorded with the crossings?

 

PC: Yes, there are a few trends that we have observed. Firstly, research shows that there is a learning curve for animals to begin using wildlife crossings after construction. It can take up to five years for wary animals such as grizzly bears and wolves before they feel secure in using the newly built crossings.

Secondly, results show that some animals prefer certain types of crossings. For example, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, deer and moose prefer wildlife crossings that are high, wide and open, and have good visibility, whereas cougars and black bears show a preference for smaller, more constricted crossings, ones that provide good cover and protection. Basically species use crossing types that match what they require for travel habitat.