Parks Canada, CPR announce grizzly conservation program

By: Rob Alexanderr

  |  Posted: Thursday, Oct 14, 2010 06:00 am

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Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway announced this week a five-year joint action plan designed to reduce grizzly bear deaths on CP tracks in Rocky Mountain National Parks.

Included in this agreement – signed Wednesday (Oct. 13) at the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion in downtown Calgary – is a commitment by CP Rail to put $1 million toward a research program to increase the understanding of immediate and long-term actions that could reduce the number of grizzlies killed by trains and implement mitigation measures, according to Minister of Environment Jim Prentice, also the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada.

“We will take specific measures to improve sight lines along the railway corridors, create warning sounds for trains and provide escape routes for bears once they realize the trains are coming.

“CP Rail, through their commitment to address these issues, are demonstrating real leadership, real corporate citizenship, they are, in fact, a model citizen working with us in our national parks to present a plan that will prevent mortality of this important species,” Prentice said.

CP Rail President and Chief Executive Officer Fred Green said along with plans to continue the nearly complete $20 million program to replace unloading gates on grain hopper cars, the railway, along with Parks Canada, would also explore extending wildlife crossing structures to traverse both the Trans-Canada Highway and the rail line.

“Bear mortality is complex. Canadian Pacific has been actively involved with a wildlife management plan for over 15 years. We have continued to support Parks Canada bear initiatives and are near completion on the refurbishment of 6,300 railway hopper cars; but we realize there is more work to do and we are very pleased to have partnered with Parks Canada,” Green said.

He added CP Rail also intends to fund and participate on a steering committee that will set the parameters of the $1 million research fund.

Other potential short-term actions include cutting back vegetation and installing fences and culverts along high-risk areas. The research program will also identify and test medium- to long-term solutions.

Green did not rule out reducing the speed of trains through Banff National Park, but said other options could be more appropriate and easier to implement.

“We tried to give as open-minded set of opportunities to those who will research these items. It is apparent there is a huge cost attached to that solution (speed reduction). You never say never to those solutions, but I do think we ought to explore the many other opportunities in front of us to address the wildlife mortality before we get to that,” Green said.

Based on a five-year average, Parks Canada is estimating that four to five grizzlies died unnaturally each year between 1975 and 1985; most of those bears were food-habituated and killed for management reasons.

Since 1985, the number of grizzlies killed for management reasons dropped significantly, according to Parks, while railway mortalities increased, with an average mortality rate of one bear per year.

In the past five years, the average mortality has increased to two grizzlies killed in Banff National Park per year, with most of those deaths connected to trains.

Banff National Park Superintendent Kevin Van Tighem said the joint plan and approach is both timely and appropriate given that bear mortality on the railway is more complex than just the issue of grain on the tracks.

For example, video of bear strikes, taken by cameras mounted on locomotives, has provided a clearer picture of why bears are being killed on the tracks, even when no grain is present.

“The picture has been crisper. Interestingly, if we had tried to solve this problem two years ago we might have been solving the wrong parts of it,” he said, adding it appears that on occasion bears run out onto the tracks as a train arrives, using the railway as an escape route.

As a result, he said, the issue of train-related grizzly bear mortality is a much larger landscape issue that requires an adaptive management process that includes suggestions such as extending the crossing structures planned as part of the Trans-Canada Highway twinning work and tackling the known problem sites without waiting for the research to be completed.

“I think we’ll see physical action on the railway line within the year,” Van Tighem said.

Jim Pissot of the Canmore-based WildCanada Conservation Alliance said Wednesday’s announcement is a significant step forward in protecting grizzly bears, an endangered species in Alberta.

“This is a change of heart at the senior level and this is an understanding at the corporate level of issues broader than the bottom line,” Pissot said.” The bottom line is critical for this railway and other businesses, but there is an understanding of wildlife ecology, and more importantly, when you have an understanding of Canada’s iconic national park and an icon animal like the grizzly bear and an icon like CPR, you have the recipe for something really heroic and monumental and I think that is going to happen.”

Pissot added he hopes this initiative influences the Canadian National Railway and Burlington Northern Railroad to follow CP Rail’s lead and create similar programs.


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