Wearing a GPS tracker fitted with researchers, the bear was spotted approaching the highway repeatedly between fall 2020 and spring 2021, but always turned back. To the end, he was lucky, as he crossed the road under a bridge north of the town of Drummond.
Lingenpolter’s story is not rare. For animals that need space to roam, busy highways are a serious obstacle. If they cross, they risk hitting a vehicle, but failure to cross can limit the animal’s range, leading to disintegration and declining numbers.
“[The highways]are a real roadblock for all the different types of wildlife,” says Jodi Hilty, president and chief scientist for Y2Y, an initiative that aims to conserve key habitats across 2,000 miles of land between Yellowstone National Park in the United States and Yukon in northwest Canada. . She adds that connectivity is vital to the survival of the species — “to preserve their genes, find the resources they need, and help maintain healthy populations.”
One simple and effective way to get around these barriers is with wildlife crossings – bridges or tunnels that provide safe passage for animals through a highway. Year 2 has helped pioneer this approach across its scope.
“When the second year of 1993 began, there were no structures to cross for wildlife. Today, there are 117,” Hilti told CNN.
In April, ground was broken at the 118 – the Bow Valley Highway that will cross the Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta.
Stretching for nearly 5,000 miles, this highway winds through some of the country’s most stunning landscapes, including the majestic Canadian Rockies and scenic Banff National Park – home to grizzly bears, wolves, elk, deer, and other wildlife.
According to Year Two, 22,000 cars use the road each day, and this swells to more than 30,000 in the summer, when tourists flock to witness the area’s natural beauty. But this infiltration of traffic in the wilderness has resulted in a large number of land vehicle collisions.
On one 25-mile highway, which has no fencing or wildlife crossings, Year Two recorded about 70 road killings per year – and the true number is likely much higher because infected animals often move out of the way and die later. , he says. Hilti.
In addition to helping the animals, crossing “improves people’s safety,” says Jesse Whittington, a wildlife ecologist at Parks Canada, which operates Banff National Park.
Whittington has studied the effect of crossing in and around the park for years. Camera traps capture the animals using them, and radio collars attached to wolf trees have shown how crossing can help enable long-range movements.
He says the animals don’t learn where the crossing is right away, but the highway fence—with foundations built two meters underground, so animals can’t dig under it—helps guide them toward him. Over time, wolves and tanks learn to use crossings and pass this knowledge on to their offspring.
Since 1996, Parks Canada has documented animals using bridges and tunnels on 187,000 occasions, according to Whittington — “an indication that these crossing structures are working.”
Hilti says Banff National Park and Y2Y have set an example for others to follow.
“I really hope that our model will be chosen consistently, because I believe that together we can ensure that both people and nature thrive,” she says.
Hilti hopes that the use of wildlife crossings will become a standard practice across the planet. “We need to get to a point where the roads are congested, and it becomes part of the normal community practice where we create a safe passage for wildlife,” she says.