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EDITORIAL: Plan for more wildlife underpasses, overpasses needed

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new wildlife overpass near Lac Des Arcs came as welcome news to the Bow Valley.
April 14, 2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new wildlife overpass near Lac Des Arcs came as welcome news to the Bow Valley.

The overpass, which began under the NDP provincial government and continued by the UCP, is a much needed wildlife crossing that should significantly reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions.

Although it is the first wildlife overpass in Alberta outside a national park, it needs to be the starting point rather than a finish line.

Anyone who drives the Trans-Canada Highway knows the reality of animals attempting to dart across one of the busiest stretches of highway in the country.

Each year there are countless incidents of vehicles slamming into animals, which can lead to the loss of both human and animal life.

In Banff National Park, a network of 38 wildlife underpasses and six overpasses as well as wildlife fencing has been established along the 82-kilometre stretch of highway to help prevent such loss of life.

With roughly 30,000 vehicles travelling the section of the Trans-Canada Highway each day ­– and it is likely to only get higher as tourism returns – the need for wildlife underpasses and overpasses is vital. The province stated at the April 8 groundbreaking event that there are an average of 69 vehicle-wildlife collisions in the area each year.

But at $17.5 million, the overpass doesn’t come at a cheap cost.

The time in advocacy work, design, receiving public feedback and the actual construction is also time consuming and painstaking work.

Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass was identified as the likely next best spot for a wildlife overpass or underpass.

In the Bow Valley, areas of Canmore will also have to be identified, but with much of the land in the area held privately, it is easier said than done.

The rejected Smith Creek area structure plan by Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) – now awaiting a decision from the Land and Property Rights Tribunal – a wildlife overpass was needed as part of the provincially approved wildlife corridor.

The Stewart Creek underpass was a split cost between Alberta Transportation and TSMV, while the Dead Man’s Flats underpass completed in 2004 was funded by the G8 Legacy Project.

Just like humans, so too do animals have to adapt.

It would be easy to simply walk up to an elk herd and let them know where they need to cross, but they have to get comfortable with the concept of using a new method.

Though elk are likely to be the first across the overpass, other wildlife such as grizzly bears can take several years before trusting the structure. Cougars, bighorn sheep, black bears and deer will also need to be considered for an underpass or overpass use.

Any wildlife crossing structure that is built will need to be monitored to ensure lessons on animal movement are gained and used going forward.

There is already a framework in place in a 2012 study by Miistakis Institute and Western Transportation Institute that identified 10 sites in a 39-kilometre stretch for fencing and underpasses from the east gate of Banff National Park to Highway 40.

The Bow Valley region also has some of the top wildlife biologists and conservation groups to lend expertise in any project to assist the province – regardless of the government of the day – to ensure the best possible outcome.

Wildlife underpasses and overpasses are critical to the Bow Valley.

A path forward needs to be prioritized.