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Wildlife photographers launch action campaign

Several Bow Valley wildlife photographers are mad as hell and they’re not going to just take pictures anymore.

Several Bow Valley wildlife photographers are mad as hell and they’re not going to just take pictures anymore.

For the sake of the small – and ever- dwindling – grizzly population of Banff National Park, it’s time to speak up and take action, says Canmore’s John Marriott.

A professional photographer since the mid-1990s, Marriott shot a series of images of a mother grizzly foraging, cavorting and doing what wild female grizzlies do with their cubs just 36 hours before she was struck and killed by a train on the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks east of Lake Louise on the night of May 28/29.

Infuriated and heart-broken, Marriott unleashed his frustration in a blog.

“To say that I was devastated by the news would be to understate it,” he wrote. “I got the call from Parks, five hours before the news was released to the media, and spent the next 24 hours in a state of shock, dismay and anger, wondering how this continues to happen time and time again.”

It’s not just that yet another valuable member of Banff’s approximately 60 grizzlies, one of three breeding females making their home in the Lake Louise area, was struck and killed by the CPR train, he says, but that Parks’ plan is to let the cubs fend for themselves in the hopes they manage to elude predators and to survive to adulthood.

“That is the big concern – the cubs. Parks’ line about just sticking to the status quo and letting nature take its course, well, that’s not good enough,” Marriott said. “It’s fine and dandy to say let nature take its course, but nature doesn’t have a big train mowing down your mother when you’re a baby. That is definitely man stepping into nature. Parks has a zero success rate with that strategy.”

Only a year old, the cubs were spotted nearby the following day and are estimated to weigh about 50 pounds each. For its part, Parks insists its resource conservation officers are doing something by monitoring the cubs daily and making noises in effort to keep them away from roads, cars and the railroad tracks.

It’s essential, Marriot argues, that Parks develop a more active strategy for the next orphaned cubs – a situation that is inevitable.

To help spur that process, Marriott and fellow wildlife photographers Cai Priestley and Brandon T. Brown have joined forces in launching a letter writing campaign to urge Parks Canada, Wild Rose MP Blake Richards, Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and the CPR to take immediate and meaningful action to protect Canada’s wildlife within the boundaries of the very national parks – and UNESCO World Heritage Site – where they are supposed to be protected.

A week into the campaign, which includes regular blog posts by the photographers, their Facebook page, Save Banff’s Wildlife, has garnered more than 300 friends with more than 100 letters sent.

It’s no coincidence, Marriott admitted, that this action comes on the heels of Canmore photographer Peter Dettling’s book, The Will of The Land, which related in thorough, discouraging detail the numbers of grizzlies – and dozens of other wild animals – that die annually on the railroads and highways running through the mountain parks.

“That’s one of the biggest things, to not let the momentum from Peter’s book die off,” Marriott said. “We need to force more and more pressure. We’re aiming directly at the hearts of people.”

For its part, CPR insists it is taking the problem seriously, with plans to announce next month some short-term actions as a result of eight months of discussion with Parks as part of a five-year action program.

“We’re very saddened to learn a bear was killed recently,” said CPR spokesperson Breanne Feigel. “Reducing train speed is one of the possible solutions being considered; it’s part of the reason CP is investing the time and money to partner with Parks Canada. It’s one of a whole series of things being looked at from a scientific point of view in a calculated, monitored approach. The solution isn’t just to react whenever that (a railroad-caused bear death) happens, but to stay the course and work on solutions for the long-term.”

With Banff’s grizzly population capable of sustaining a four per cent annual mortality rate, this recent death, coupled with a male that was killed on the Trans-Canada in May, bringing the 2011 count to 6.6 per cent, such statements are simply too little and far too slow coming, Marriott insists.

“We’ve already fulfilled our quota and it’s only the beginning of June,” Marriott said. “Parks and CP say they’re doing their part, but none of that is adequate. There are actions that can be taken immediately. The 70 kilometre zone needs to actually be enforced. They can slow down the train, and they can fix the grain cars – now.

“We’ve got a huge corporation making money hand-over-fist,” Marriott said. “A million dollars over five years does nothing right now. CP can easily take that $1 million and spend it to fix those grain cars. This is a critical time. The grizzly is listed as a threatened species in Alberta.

“This will keep happening.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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