February 08, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

Right of Passage 

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

click to enlarge All large mammals, especially deer and elk, use the animal crossings regularly. Black Bears, like the ones pictured here, prefer small crossings that provide good cover and protection.
  • All large mammals, especially deer and elk, use the animal crossings regularly. Black Bears, like the ones pictured here, prefer small crossings that provide good cover and protection.

While the idea of wildlife-specific crossings is nothing new to Banff National Park, it is only in the last decade (and more predominantly in recent years) that scientists, parks staff and researchers are beginning to comprehend and effectively utilize the 30-odd years of research collected along Banff National Park’s section of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Going back to the mid 1970s, when the onslaught of ever increasing human traffic began, it was decided that the amount of both human and wildlife fatalities due to highway collisions was simply no longer acceptable. It was then that Parks Canada began to come up with an ambitious plan; one that they most likely never imagined would make Banff the world leader for animal specific crossings and attract researchers from around the globe to come and observe their achievements.

By 1981, with highway traffic increasing considerably on an annual basis it was time for major upgrades to begin.   Completely bisecting the park through the Bow Valley at a crucial area for wildlife feeding, mating and dispersion of offspring, the Trans-Canada needed to be transformed from two lanes into four while implementing a tangible plan that allowed wildlife the same right of passage as the millions of visiting motorists. The goal was to maintain ecological integrity amongst the parks diverse wildlife population.

In those plans it was decided to build 22 underpasses and two overpasses over 45 kilometres of fenced-in highway, as well as to create a progressive visitor education program that would combat wildlife feeding and reduce the speed limit to 90 km/h.

Those implementations effectively gave Banff more wildlife passages than any other place in the world and positively modified visitor behavior to cut ungulate animal collisions by over 96 per cent and non-hoofed animal collisions by over 80 per cent (given that bears occasionally still climb over fences and animals such as coyotes and wolves still find the need to sporadically dig under them).

  Research using a mix of both primitive and modern day techniques continue to this day, giving researchers a wealth of data on which to study the movement and habits of all animals that now commute using these park features.

Freshly racked sand pads provide paw and hoof prints identifying different types of animals while silent remote digital cameras snap four photographs in rapid succession at one second intervals, recording behavior and how animals react while using crossings. Strategically strung barbed wire retains fur or hair samples which can be used to track individual animals and their anatomy through DNA testing.

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