Wildlife Crossings – A Lifeline for Canadian Grizzly Bears

With the help of a GPS tracker set up by the researchers, the bear was seen approaching the highway again and again between autumn 2020 and spring 2021, but always coming back. So far, in the end, he had no luck: he crossed the road under the bridge north of the city of Drummond.

Lingenpolter’s story is not uncommon. For animals that need a place to roam, busy highways are a dangerous obstacle. If they cross, they risk being hit by a vehicle, but not crossing can limit the animal’s range, leading to fragmentation and population decline.

“(Highways) are a real barrier to all kinds of wildlife,” says Jody Hilty, president and chief scientist of Y2Y, an initiative to preserve first-class habitat on 2,000 miles of land between Yellowstone National Park in the US and the Yukon in the US. northwest Canada. Communication is vital to the survival of species — “to maintain their genetics, find the resources they need, and help maintain healthy populations,” she adds.

One simple yet effective way to overcome these barriers is through wildlife crossings—bridges or underpasses that allow animals to cross highways safely. Y2Y has helped bring this approach across its entire range.

“When Y2Y started in 1993, there were absolutely no facilities for wildlife crossing. Today there are 117,” Hilti tells CNN.

In April, ground was broken on the 118th Bow Valley Overpass, which will cross the Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta.

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This nearly 5,000-mile highway traverses some of the country’s most scenic landscapes, including the majestic Canadian Rockies and spectacular Banff National Park, home to grizzly bears, wolves, moose, deer and other wildlife.

According to Y2Y, 22,000 vehicles pass the road every day, and in the summer, when tourists come to admire the region’s natural beauty, the number rises to 30,000. But this intrusion of vehicles into the desert has resulted in a large number of wildlife-vehicle collisions.

The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through the stunning landscapes of Alberta.

On one 25-mile stretch of highway that has no guardrails or wildlife crossings, Y2Y records about 70 roadkills a year, and the true number is likely much higher because injured animals often run off the road and die later, Hilty says. .

However, in places where there are wildlife crossings and roadside barriers, road fatalities have dropped dramatically. Take Banff National Park, where there are 41 underpasses and seven overpasses across a 55-mile stretch of highway. Here, collisions of wild animals with vehicles decreased by more than 80%, and for moose and deer – by more than 96%.

According to Jessie Whittington, a wildlife ecologist in Canada who manages Banff National Park, not only helps the animals, but also “improves safety for people.”

Whittington has studied the effects of crossings in and around the park for many years. Camera traps record which animals use them, and radio collars attached to grizzlies and wolves have shown how crossings can help move long distances.

Camera trap footage shows a bear and her cubs walking through an underpass in Alberta.

The animals don’t immediately know where the crossing is, he says, but fencing the highway, with a foundation laid two meters underground to prevent animals from digging underneath, helps direct them to it. Over time, grizzlies and wolves learn to use crosses and pass this knowledge on to their offspring.

Since 1996, Parks Canada has recorded animals using flyovers and underpasses 187,000 times, Whittington said, “an indication that these crossings are working.”

According to Hilty, Banff National Park and the Y2Y project have become role models.

“I really hope that our model will constantly evolve, because I think that together we can ensure the prosperity of both people and nature,” she says.

Highways can be dangerous places for bears. 1 credit

There are signs of momentum. In 2021, the US government announced its Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide $350 million over five years to build bridges, tunnels, fences, and other wildlife infrastructure. Construction began in April of this year. world’s largest wildlife crossingwhich will span more than 10 lanes of Highway 101 in northwest Los Angeles, connecting the Simi Hills to the Santa Monica Mountains and giving wildlife like cougars more room to roam.

Hilty hopes that the use of wilderness crossings will become standard practice across the planet. “We need to get to the point where, when the roads are busy, it becomes part of normal public practice to create a safe passage for wildlife,” she says.