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Conservationists hoping for wildlife overpass funds

“It’s super important because it’s in this location that we know is a high collision zone. It’s also known to be a really important connectivity zone for grizzly bears and black bears and cougars and wolves," said Adam Linnard of Y2Y.
A wildlife crossing across the Trans-Canada highway in Banff National Park. SUBMITTED PHOTO
BOW VALLEY – Conservationists are calling on the provincial government to make a long-term proposal for a $7 million wildlife overpass east of Lac des Arcs a priority, even in the face of expected budget cuts.

While they don’t expect to see a line item in the Oct. 24 provincial budget, officials with Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative are hopeful an overpass at Bow Valley Gap will be made a priority by Alberta Transportation when it gets its budget.

“I want it to be in their minds as they’re heading into budget,” said Adam Linnard, Alberta program manager for Y2Y.

“I don’t expect there to be a specific line item for it; it would be great if there was, but I do want them to be thinking about it, so that as they’re developing their plans from those budgets this isn’t the kind of thing that drops off for another couple of years.”

The 2019 provincial budget will be released on Thursday (Oct. 24) at 3:15 p.m.

Miranda Rosin, UCP MLA for Banff-Kananaksis, was not immediately available for comment.

So far in 2019, Alberta Transportation has recorded an average of 24,648 vehicles every day on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Canmore. That’s one car every 3.5 seconds – not a lot of time for an animal to safely cross the road and plenty of reason to avoid trying at all.

Wildlife crossings and fencing also mean a significant savings to society, according to Y2Y, which says injury and death, insurance claims and property damage from wildlife-vehicle collisions dropped more than 90 per cent for a stretch of highway near Dead Man’s Flats following construction of an underpass and fencing in 2004.

Linnard said one of the next steps that will make this stretch of highway safer is a wildlife overpass and wildlife fencing at a known hotspot near Bow Valley Gap, located about 24 kilometres east of Canmore.

“It’s super important because it’s in this location that we know is a high-collision zone,” he said. “It’s also known to be a really important connectivity zone for grizzly bears and black bears and cougars and wolves.”

Conservationists say the overpass east of Lac des Arcs should be just one part of a broader plan for the Trans-Canada Highway outside of Banff National Park to protect wildlife and people.

“This overpass is not going to solve the issue of elk getting hit in Canmore,” Linnard said.

“The broader plan would include fencing and crossing structures elsewhere, where they’re most effective and appropriate, so probably both underpasses and overpasses.”

A 2012 study by Miistakis Institute and Western Transportation Institute identified 10 sites along a 39-kilometre stretch of highway from the east gate of Banff to Highway 40 for mitigation, with recommendations including fencing and associated underpasses.

“It would need to be updated given the changes in Canmore since then and the changes that we can foresee,” Linnard said.

“Whenever we’re talking about Three Sisters wildlife corridor, we need to also be thinking about highway crossings and mitigations that would accompany that.”

In neighbouring Banff National Park, there are now 38 wildlife underpasses and six overpasses along an 82-kilometre stretch of highway from the park’s east entrance to the border of Yoho National Park.

Highway fencing there has reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80 per cent and, for elk and deer alone, by more than 96 per cent.


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