Drivers killing bears in parks
By: Cathy Ellis
| Posted: Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 06:00 am
Speeders are responsible for the deaths of at least six black bears on roads in the mountain national parks so far this year, prompting Parks Canada to urge drivers to slow down.
Two bears have been killed on Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park, another two on Highway 93 North in Banff National Park and two more on the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho.
One black bear was killed on the train tracks near Banff, bringing the overall confirmed death toll for black bears in the three national parks to seven. No grizzly bears have died in the three parks so far this year.
“Speed is believed to have played a major role in these collisions, but all the black bear strikes have occurred along stretches of road not twinned or fenced,” said Omar McDadi, a Parks Canada spokesman.
“We take the protection of wildlife very seriously and we’re concerned by, and regret, the loss of these animals. We have dedicated staff who work so hard to minimize collisions with wildlife, but we can’t act alone.”
A black bear was killed on the Trans-Canada Highway near Yoho Ranch in Yoho on June 1; another on Highway 93 North in Banff National Park near Bow Summit on June 14; one on Highway 93 South in Kootenay 20-km north of Radium, June 24; another on the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho near Ottertail, July 7; one on Highway 93 South near the Simpson Monument, July 9 and another on Highway 93 North near Rampart Creek, July 11.
A seventh black bear was found dead on the Trans-Canada Highway near the Field turn-off July 8, though officials cannot say with 100 per cent certainty the bear was struck by a vehicle.
This year’s mortality numbers are similar to last year’s, in which seven black bears were also killed. There were also three human-caused grizzly bear deaths in the parks last year.
Following a wet spring and late snowmelt, coupled with near record-breaking snowfall in the alpine over the winter and spring, many bears are remaining in the valley bottoms, and close to roads, in search of food.
McDadi said there’s a lot of on-the-ground work being done to reduce roadside collisions, including bear guardian teams who work to educate people about wildlife and break up so-called roadside “bear jams.”
He said bear guardians work closely with Parks Canada’s resource conservation officers, who are highly trained professionals working directly with bears to minimize the likelihood of conflict between bruins and people.
But, he said, visitor awareness and education on the importance of sticking to posted speed limits and being aware of wildlife in the parks can go a long way in preventing collisions and helping wildlife survive.
“By following speed limits, visitors can prolong the life of animals by many years and actually even improve human safety, too, by minimizing collisions,” McDadi said.
But conservationists say more needs to be done, including tougher enforcement and the use of photo radar.
“We need strict enforcement for these speeders and yahoos, not just educate them and see what happens,” said Jim Pissot, executive director of WildCanada Conservation Alliance.
“Speed enforcement is a public safety issue and a wildlife conservation issue.”
Pissot said he rarely sees a Parks Canada presence along Highway 93 South in Kootenay, which is a deadly stretch of road that has claimed more than 500 animals in the last decade.
“We can’t expect people to learn good behaviour by osmosis,” he said. “Parks has delayed wildlife measures along Highway 93 South and there’s inadequate signing and warnings.”
Accurate population estimates for black bears in the parks are not available, however, the Bow Valley has long been said to be a mortality sink for black bears.
According to a Parks Canada report, there were 477 confirmed black bear deaths over a 20-year period from 1990 to 2009 in Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Waterton, Mount Revelstoke-Glacier national parks.
Of those, 449 were human-caused, including 125 black bears killed on the railway and 238 killed on the roads. Seventeen bears were destroyed for public safety reasons and another 57 were destroyed for getting into garbage.
The cause of death for another 16 bears is unknown, while only 12 of the 477 confirmed deaths were of natural causes.
Parks Canada asks that all wildlife sightings be reported to 1-888-WARDENS.