Wildlife needs safe passages in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass, study says

Animals in the Wildlife Corridor Jim Prentice must regularly cross Highway 3 to feed, drink and mate, the organization announced CNC in his first report of the animal movement observation project established in the region in 2020.

We have as many animals north as south of the highway, so it shows that animals move between the two [zones]they have to move to the highwayexplains biologist Émilie Brien, natural area manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

More than 145,000 deer and elk, 612 black and grizzly bears, 568 cougars and 72 wolves were observed by survey cameras.

Image: Nature Conservancy of Canada

The NCC’s observation project includes 37 cameras installed across the highway, a major road that connects Alberta and British Columbia in the south of the two provinces. This main road crosses from east to west the wildlife corridor inaugurated in 2018 by the NCC.

», spécifie la biologiste. «Dans cette zone-là, on a le plus grand nombre de mammifères en Amérique du Nord. […] On sait qu’il y a beaucoup de collisions entre les animaux et les véhicules, donc on voulait mieux comprendre comment les animaux bougent autour de ce corridor-là pour essayer de voir comment on peut atténuer ces problèmes-là.”,”text”:”C’est un endroit assez exceptionnel pour la faune», spécifie la biologiste. «Dans cette zone-là, on a le plus grand nombre de mammifères en Amérique du Nord. […] On sait qu’il y a beaucoup de collisions entre les animaux et les véhicules, donc on voulait mieux comprendre comment les animaux bougent autour de ce corridor-là pour essayer de voir comment on peut atténuer ces problèmes-là.”}}”>It’s a pretty rare place for wildlife,” the biologist points out. “In this area, we have the largest number of mammals in North America. […] We know there are a lot of collisions between animals and vehicles, so we want to better understand how animals move through that corridor to try to see how we can alleviate those problems.

Few structures in place

The twenty or so volunteers taking part in the project looked at more than 425,000 images in which they recognized almost 155,000 animals in the first year of the study, the preliminary conclusions of which have already been published.

Map of the presence of ungulates along the wildlife corridor.

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Elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose are present along the wildlife corridor.

Photo: Miistakis Institute and Nature Conservancy of Canada

Map of the presence of carnivores along the wildlife corridor.

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The cougar is one of the most prevalent carnivores along the wildlife corridor.

Photo: Miistakis Institute and Nature Conservancy of Canada

The cameras primarily spotted deer and elk, but also bears, cougars and wolves.

», explique Emilie Brien. «On veut donner à Alberta Transportation des recommandations sur quels moyens d’atténuation ils peuvent utiliser et quels endroits seraient les plus appropriés pour ces moyens-là.”,”text”:”On espère qu’avec les données qu’on ramasse, on va mieux comprendre exactement où et quelles espèces ont besoin de traverser l’autoroute», explique Emilie Brien. «On veut donner à Alberta Transportation des recommandations sur quels moyens d’atténuation ils peuvent utiliser et quels endroits seraient les plus appropriés pour ces moyens-là.”}}”>We hope that with the data we collect, we can better understand exactly where and what species need to cross the highway,” explained Emilie Brien. “We want to provide recommendations to Alberta Transportation on which mitigation methods they can use and which areas are most suitable for these methods.

There are five structures where animals can safely cross the corridor Jim Prentice : a bridge, an underpass and three gutters.

», ajoute la biologiste Emilie Brien. «Ce qu’on peut voir, c’est qu’il y a juste deux structures qui sont vraiment utilisées par certaines espèces. Et encore là, ce ne sont pas toutes les espèces. Donc, ce sont les deux seuls moyens vraiment les plus sécuritaires [où] ils peuvent traverser et ils ne sont pas beaucoup utilisés.”,”text”:”On a certaines de nos caméras qui sont installées à des structures qui existent déjà pour traverser l’autoroute», ajoute la biologiste Emilie Brien. «Ce qu’on peut voir, c’est qu’il y a juste deux structures qui sont vraiment utilisées par certaines espèces. Et encore là, ce ne sont pas toutes les espèces. Donc, ce sont les deux seuls moyens vraiment les plus sécuritaires [où] ils peuvent traverser et ils ne sont pas beaucoup utilisés.”}}”>We have some of our cameras installed on structures that already exist to cross the highway,” added biologist Emilie Brien. “You can see, there are only two structures that are actually used by certain species. And again, it’s not all species. So those are the only two safest ways [où] they can be crossed and they are not used much.

Emilie Brien walks in a river that flows under the highway.

The passage under this bridge is one of five existing structures where animals can travel on both sides of the highway in a safe manner. They are little used according to the study.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Evelyne Asselin

A danger for animals and motorists

There are an average of 158 traffic accidents per year involving an animal on Highway 3 in Crowsnest Pass between 2017 and 2021, according to data from Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors.

For Kelly McLean, this statistic is a sad reality. The resident of Coleman in Crowsnest Pass has hit five animals in the past few years, killing two deer and a bear. His last accident happened almost three months ago.

After I hit the deer, I wondered where he came fromsaid the 56-year-old driver who has lived in the region for more than 21 years. He just flew in from the north and sat next to the car. I haven’t done anything. Where are the obstacles?

According to the resident and our observation, there is no barrier to prevent animals from crossing the highway at Crowsnest Pass except for a hundred meters of fence placed near the lake crows nest, near the British Columbia border.

A fence at the edge of the forest.

Alberta Transportation has put up some fencing along Crowsnest Lake to prevent animals from crossing the highway. According to Kelly McLean, more is needed to protect animals and motorists.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Evelyne Asselin

», estime Kelly McLean. «La protection de la faune, les responsables des autoroutes et la province doivent travailler ensemble sur une solution.”,”text”:”Il n’y a rien pour arrêter [les animaux], pas de barrière, pas de passage sous-terrain», estime Kelly McLean. «La protection de la faune, les responsables des autoroutes et la province doivent travailler ensemble sur une solution.”}}”>Nothing can stop it [les animaux], no barriers, no underpasses,” said Kelly McLean. “Wildlife protection, highway officials and the province must work together to find a solution.

In April, the province announced the construction of an animal crossing on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Canmore. This is the first bridge of its kind built by the province outside of national parks.

According to data from the Department of Transportation and Economic Corridors, daily traffic on this section of the Trans-Canada Highway is more than double that of Highway 3. On the other hand, the average number of accidents involving of animals were 65 accidents. each year on the Trans-Canada Highway between 2017 and 2021, more than half the average number of accidents similar to Crowsnest Pass.

Emilie Brien changes the batteries of a camera.

The twenty or so volunteers from the research project visit the cameras no more than every three months to replace the memory card and the batteries. The cameras are triggered when motion is detected and operate 24 hours a day for the three years of the project.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Evelyne Asselin

In an email sent to Radio-Canada, Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen indicated that there are no plans for the construction of other livestock bridges in Alberta.

However, the department continues to assess areas where there are high numbers of animal incidents. Our department continues to study the possibility of using other measures such as underpasses, fences, vegetation control and signage.

The study by the Nature Conservancy of Canada is being done in partnership with the Miistakis Institute and will conclude in 2023. The organization will then submit its recommendations to the Ministry of Transport and Economic Corridors.

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