Calgary

Pilot project launched to reduce wildlife train deaths shows promise in Banff, park officials say

West of the Banff townsite — where the tracks curve through thick forests and steep hills — they have cut several trails off of the rail line, and others that run parallel to it. The idea, park officials say, is to provide wildlife with potential escape routes from trains, and a network of alternative pathways through the area.

Trails cut through forests near rail line being used by wildlife in need of escape route from trains

Wildlife escape trails show promise in Banff National Park

CBC News Calgary

5 months ago
3:28
This cost-effective pilot project that builds escape trails for wildlife along a rail line in Banff National Park may have already saved some animals from being hit by a train. 3:28

A pilot project in Banff National Park that is using escape trails and other spaces cut along a rail line to reduce wildlife mortality rates is showing promise, Parks Canada says.

Researchers are two years into a five-year project with an objective to find ways to reduce wildlife deaths along the train tracks.

West of the Banff townsite — where the tracks curve through thick forests and steep hills — they have cut about 38 kilometres of trail off of the rail line, and others that run parallel to it.

The idea, park officials say, is to provide wildlife with potential escape routes from trains, and a network of alternative pathways through the area.

"You have to recognize that they will select to use the rail at times, so what we are trying to do here is to reduce the probability that they'll get struck," Parks Canada Resource Management officer Dave Garrow said.

A pilot project aims to reduce wildlife deaths on train tracks by cutting alternative paths along the railway. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"So [we're] giving them options off of the rail, to travel outside of the rail corridor — and as well as giving them a higher success rate of leaving the rail under duress."

Cameras show wildlife moving off tracks

The areas where the trails have been cut include rough terrain and other features that mean fewer route options for animals, park officials said.

The behaviour of the wildlife, and their use of the trails, are being monitored by trail cameras that have captured a variety of animals using the parallel paths in the area — and some to escape passing trains.

Parks Canada Resource Conservation Manager Bill Hunt told CBC News that though it is still early for the project, the initial results are promising.

"Our sample sizes aren't large enough yet to get significant results, but the initial results are showing that … that wildlife are using the parallel trails once we clear them out. We're starting to see quite a bit of additional wildlife use there," Hunt said. 

A sign marks a wildlife corridor in Banff National Park. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"We're seeing camera images showing wildlife coming off the railway, sometimes under duress leaving the railway tracks, so that's encouraging to see those."

And because the strategy has minimal impact on rail operations and is relatively low maintenance, it could eventually be replicated along other sections of the railway if it works, park officials said.

Pilot project backed by years of research

The project is one of the wildlife management initiatives to come out of a recent study involving Parks Canada and the University of Alberta looking at wildlife deaths on railway tracks.

It examined 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia between 1995 and 2018: 59 bears; 27 wolves, coyotes, cougars and lynx; and 560 deer, elk, moose and sheep.

"The top predictor was train speed," said lead author Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta. "Next was distance to water, then the [amount of] water near the site and then curvature in the tracks."

Train speed and track curvature, she said, make it difficult for wildlife to detect trains, while being close to water hinders their ability to get off the tracks before being hit.

The study was published in Nature's Scientific Reports in November of 2020, and built upon a five-year research project funded by Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway from 2010 to 2015 that focused on grizzly bears being struck by trains in the same two parks.

It concluded that giving grizzlies better travel paths and sightlines along the railway was the best way to keep them safe.

With files from Dave Gilson and The Canadian Press

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now