CANMORE – A long-awaited wildlife fence to be built along the Trans-Canada Highway from the Bow River bridge to Banff National Park’s east gate is expected to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by as much as 80 per cent.
Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors has retained Dillon Consulting Limited to manage the design, construction, and post-construction of a 10-kilometre long wildlife exclusion fence expected to break ground in 2025.
Following three separate vehicle crashes with elk in spring 2019 near the Palliser lands, including the death of seven elk hit by a semi-trailer in one incident and a woman sent to hospital in another, there have been ongoing calls for a wildlife exclusion fence.
Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert, who had advocated to the province on behalf of council and the municipality, welcomed the news the province is dealing with the serious safety risk to both people and wildlife.
He noted a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway running through Canmore has seen “a very high level of motor vehicle collisions with wildlife over the years.”
“When we received word that it’s going forward, it brings a lot of hope that the conflict between animals crossing the highway and vehicles will be greatly reduced,” said Krausert.
“While we await details of what the fence will look like, we are hopeful that this is another large step forward in our efforts to coexist with wildlife in the valley to the benefit of all.”
The Alberta government allocated $15 million over three years in the 2023 capital budget to mitigate animal-vehicle collisions on provincial highways.
This investment includes the engineering work for wildlife exclusion fencing on the Trans-Canada Highway from the Bow River bridge east of Canmore to the national park gate.
A spokesperson for Alberta Transportation said safety is a priority and includes mitigating animal-vehicle collisions on the provincial highway network.
In addition to the cost to human life and the environment, they said animal-vehicle collisions can cost $300,000 per day in associated property damage, health care, and highway maintenance costs.
“The wildlife fence will be approximately 2.5 metres high and run 10km in length,” according to an emailed statement from Alberta Transportation.
“Construction is anticipated to get underway in 2025, following consultation, design, and engineering work in 2024.”
Highways are barriers for wide-ranging mammals such as grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, cougars, deer and elk. These animals and others need to move through the landscape to access food, water, safety and mates.
Not only is the Bow Valley one of the most important regional wildlife corridors in Alberta and the broader Yellowstone to Yukon region, but is also a busy thoroughfare for people with a staggering 34,000 vehicles buzzing through on the highway every day throughout summer.
It is not uncommon to see dead elk in the ditch of the Trans-Canada Highway through Canmore. Up-to-date wildlife mortality statistics, however, were not available by the Outlook’s publication deadline.
With a growing body of evidence around the world showing fencing helps prevent car crashes and saves the lives of people and wildlife, the Town of Canmore and conservation groups like Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative have been advocating for fencing for years.
Tim Johnson, Y2Y’s landscape connectivity specialist, said the organization is excited to see this solution moving forward.
“This is definitely a step forward in creating that connection and system of crossings like those in Banff,” he said, in reference to this fencing announcement and the wildlife crossing under construction near Lac Des Arcs.
Johnson said projects like these help fill the gaps between Banff National Park and Kananaskis River.
“The Canmore corridor is one of those spots where anyone that lives here or travels through knows there’s lots of issues with often deer and elk on the road,” he said.
“It’s an area that the province has collision data that shows has a high number of collisions of wildlife so we’re happy to see it moving forward.”
Like in Banff National Park, highway fencing in Canmore would be ideally associated with crossing structures like an overpass or an underpass for animals to get back and forth across the highway safely.
“In an ideal scenario there would also be plans for future crossings, but that can be challenging in a landscape like Canmore, where you have development flanking the highway,” said Johnson.
“Fencing is something that is definitely a way to keep wildlife off the highway and definitely a way to improve motorist safety, it's not ideal in terms of wildlife connectivity,” he added.
“We’re looking forward to having additional discussions with the Town and the province about getting people and animals across the highway safely.”
It is hoped the highway fence will push wildlife to use crossing structures to the west inside Banff National Park and to the east of the Three Sisters interchange where there is an underpass, and one further east at Dead Man’s Flats.
“In terms of the deer and elk, you know they’re fairly resourceful,” said Johnson.
A 2012 study called Highway Wildlife Mitigation Opportunities for the Trans-Canada Highway in the Bow River Valley identified problem areas from Banff’s east gate to Highway 40, including mitigations adjacent to the section of the highway through Canmore.
On Sept. 7, 2022, Canmore council unanimously passed a motion put forward by Coun. Wade Graham directing Mayor Krausert to write a letter to the province requesting action to to reduce accidents involving wildlife on the Trans-Canada Highway through Canmore.
The mayor also met with the transportation minister of the day at an Alberta Municipalities conference in Calgary later that fall to further advocate for highway mitigation measures, such as fencing, potential wildlife and human overpasses and underpasses.
In his letter, Krausert said there had been at least 39 collisions involving wildlife on the stretch of highway from Bow River Bridge to the east gate of Banff National Park between January 2019 through July 2022.
“Beyond collisions, I have personally witnessed dozens of traffic jams on the highway at the Town of Canmore due to herds of elk crossing,” he wrote.
“These traffic jams often start with near misses where drivers must swerve or brake quickly to avoid a wildlife collision. As tourism traffic volumes increase, the potential for collisions increases.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Economic Corridors and Dillon Consulting say there will be consultation with project stakeholders and First Nations to share information about the project.
In neighbouring Banff National Park, wildlife exclusion fencing that parallels the highway throughout the park has reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80 per cent and, for elk and deer alone, by more than 96 per cent.
In addition to the fencing, there are 38 wildlife underpasses and six overpasses along an 82-kilometre stretch of highway from the national park’s east entrance to the border of Yoho National Park.
In the meantime, construction on a $17.5 million overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway near Highway 1X remains stalled for the winter after design and resulting safety concerns were identified by the Alberta government.
Contractors broke ground on the overpass – the first overpass crossing in Alberta outside a national park – in spring 2022 with a scheduled opening of fall 2023. It is expected to open later this summer. Included in this project’s design is 12 kilometres of wildlife fencing along the highway to shepherd wildlife toward safe crossing points. There are also jump-outs to allow wildlife stuck on the highway to safely get to the other side of the fence.