The deaths of three more wolf pups on the railway tracks in Banff National Park has sparked renewed calls for Canadian Pacific to slow down trains in known wildlife mortality hot spots.
A freight train hit the young-of-the-year pups, two males and one female from the troubled Bow Valley pack, at about 2 a.m. Monday (July 4) west of the Banff townsite – the latest members of the pack to be killed at the hands of humans over the past several weeks.
The alpha female was put down by wildlife managers in June after a series of incidents where she was showing bold behaviour, including taking food from an occupied campsite, and another pup was killed on the tracks near Hillsdale Meadows.
Reg Bunyan, spokesman for Bow Valley Naturalists, said the deaths of the eight- to 10-week-old pups shows just how difficult it can be for wolves in the Bow Valley, noting it’s been a really tough year for this pack, especially without their mother to guide them.
“Bow Valley Naturalists have long advocated for CP to slow down trains, but of course CP has been reluctant to do anything that will interfere with their operations,” said Bunyan, a retired Parks resource conservation officer.
There were reports of five or six wolves by the train tracks when Monday’s train strike occurred. Parks’ resource conservation officers have been out to the area searching for any signs of other injured or dead animals.
Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, said to the best of his knowledge there are six remaining wolves in the pack, including two young-of-the year pups, three yearlings and the alpha male.
“We will be monitoring to try to determine if any members of the pack are unaccounted for,” said Hunt. “Staff also planned to re-visit the site to see if they could find any signs of a dead animal, wolf or ungulate, in the area.”
Wolf pups in the Bow Valley are typically born between mid-April and early May. The average litter size for wolves here has been four to six. Pup mortality in the first year can be anywhere between 40 and 60 per cent.
“We are definitely disappointed this has taken place. We’ve put a lot of time into managing wolves this summer and it’s definitely a setback for the pack,” said Hunt, adding he is hopeful the pack will breed again next year.
“Wolves are prolific breeders and they do have the ability to recover and come back from setbacks, certainly much more quickly than something like bears that have one or two cubs and who stay with them three or four years,” he said.
Salem Woodrow, a spokesperson for Canadian Pacific, said the train crew immediately reported the incident to CP’s operations centre, which then reported it to Parks.
When asked if CP is considering slowing down trains, Woodrow didn’t speak to that, other than to say crews have been instructed to be on the lookout for wildlife throughout the corridor.
“CP continues to work closely with Parks Canada to reduce wildlife mortality on and near the railway,” she wrote in an email.
Hunt said there will be a meeting this fall between Parks Canada and CP to discuss results of research for the joint action plan into bear mortality on the train tracks.