Original Published on Sep 08, 2022 at 04:00
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Jasper National Park has a higher wildlife mortality rate on its highways than Banff National Park does, according to a recent CBC article.
Between 2011 and 2021, Parks Canada reported 1,007 animals, coyote-sized and larger, were killed on roads in Jasper National Park.
This is nearly four times the number in Banff, where 272 animals were killed.
Dave Argument, resource conservation officer with Jasper National Park, argued that it was difficult to compare both national parks.
“You’re comparing apples to oranges in some ways,” he said.
The two parks are different places with different geographies, different populations and different roadways.
“It’s a significantly different environment, of course,” Argument said.
Banff was an early adopter of extensive highway fencing and overpass/underpass structures. It was considered to be a world leader in highway wildlife safety because of that.
That park achieved a significant reduction in the number of mortalities as a result, Argument said, though not without some expense to the animal populations.
But Jasper isn’t Banff, and those same methods don’t necessarily fit up north.
The Yellowhead Highway from the east mostly follows the river into town with several significant rocky outcroppings that come right down to the asphalt on the other side of the road.
Those spots are where many bighorn sheep come down to access both the river for water and the river flats for foraging. Argument said that there isn’t even a model to study what an overpass in such situations might even look like.
“There’s a lot of research required… a lot of understanding required,” he said.
“What would those things do to wildlife movement? Is it more important to reduce the mortality or to allow the natural habitat use and movement of those wildlife populations as they move around the landscape?”
In Banff, he continued, they learned that fences are not the ideal solution because they can sever members of a herd, creating two distinct populations. Overpasses and underpasses become critical to allow that natural flow, but they require pre-existing geological features.
Adam Linnard agrees that you can’t rubberstamp Banff’s success story elsewhere.
The best takeaway from where things worked in Banff is in that park’s motivation, said the Alberta program manager with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a non-profit conservation organization.
“I think the best example that Banff can provide for Jasper is that Banff committed to solving the problem, and they found the solution that worked for Banff,” he said, confirming those key differences that Argument first pointed out.
“It is a different environment, and it’s a different highway, and there’s different animals. You need to develop a plan that is specific to the context in Jasper. It would definitely look different than it does in Banff.”
He said that a large part of Banff’s wildlife protection plan was built into the twinning of Highway 1 a few decades ago.
Jasper National Park has tried employing various measures within that same timeframe as well, he added. On top of all that, there is the Highway 16 Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Mitigation Report that was prepared by Anthony Clevenger and Mirjam Barrueto for Parks Canada’s reference in 2016.
Those authors are at the world’s forefront of research on the subject, he said, pointing out that the report identifies five locations where mitigations like fencing and radar-based animal detection systems could be easily put to use.
“It’d be cheaper to put in a mitigation than it would be to do nothing,” Linnard said, calling it a very clear starting point.
“The next step, though, would be to thoroughly analyze that. It would be to actually say, ‘Let’s spend some time on the land here and let’s identify the species who are getting hit and where precisely and come up with solutions that would address those collision spots for those species given the topography that we have to work with’.”
Since 1980, Parks Canada has kept an accurate account of wildlife mortalities on roadways and on the rail lines as well. The species that is most often hit and killed by vehicles is the white-tailed deer with more than 1,150 fatalities altogether.
That doesn’t tell the full story either, however. Early on, that species had only a few fatalities per year. Recently, that has gone as high as 60 deaths annually.
There are two factors at work there, Argument said.
“That shows actually a change in the assembly of species in the park: white-tailed deer are expanding their range. They’re more numerous.”
The other factor is an ongoing problem, and it’s a major one: speeders on the highway.
It’s the one thing that could make the biggest difference all around, Argument said. He wants drivers themselves to take responsibility in Jasper.
“We need to ask people to please respect the speed limits. Speeding through the park… it is a problem and you see it every time you head out to Hinton or to the west gate. There are people that are driving far too aggressively. They’re in a hurry to get through here,” he said, pointing out that many people don’t heed the two speed reduction zones at the two key rocky outcroppings.
Those zones have newly-installed electronic speed signs that also record each vehicle’s speed before and after the sign.
Speeding is especially a problem where vehicles have pulled over on the side of the road so that people can view wildlife. Those wildlife jams make for dangerous situations where humans and wildlife alike are at peril.
“We’re lucky that there aren’t more serious vehicle accidents and human injuries related to wildlife strikes, but it’s certainly hard to deal with that many unnecessary wildlife deaths in a place like Jasper,” Argument said.
Argument reminded motorists why they are visiting Jasper in the first place.
“Take your time. You’re driving through a national park. Beautiful views all around you. Take a deep breath, slow down and respect the speed limit as you transit through the park.”