Train strikes are a key cause of Grizzly bear mortality in Canada, with ten reported deadly collisions over the past decade in the Banff and Yoho national parks alone.
In 2010, North America's Grizzly bear population were marked as an endangered species, and with female Grizzly bears having low reproductive rates, even one bear killed is cause for concern. To better understand this issue and identify solutions, Parks Canada and Class-1 railroad Canadian Pacific (CP) launched a multi-year research program that has just been concluded and now a number of strategies are being introduced to address this problem. Whilst there is no simple solution to bear-train collisions, the risks can be reduced and CP Rail have agreed to provide a C$1 million grant for a project to help further protect bears and other wildlife living near railways.
Bear-train collisions pose a complex problem, with no simple solution. Grizzly bears are always on the move to meet their needs for food, space, shelter and mates. Bears travel huge distances during their lives, crossing roads and railways often. They are attracted to the railway for a variety of reasons:
he risk can never be fully avoided, however, through targeted research-based measures the parrtnership aims to reduce the overall risk or grizzly bear mortality on the railway by:
- Developing and improving wildlife travel routes adjacent to sections of track that pose a high risk for grizzly bear-train collisions, and
- Using prescribed fire and forest thinning to enhance grizzly bear habitat and encourage use away from the railway.
As part of this five year study carried out by Parks Canada, a sample of black bears were fitted with GPS collars and tracked by researchers. This gave them information about where, when and why the bears were sighted near railways. Researchers also looked into the grain and vegetation along the tracks to see if this was one of the main attractions for the grizzly bears.
Park Canada's findings have shown that wildlife travel routes next to sections of the track needed to be developed and improved. Additionally, they suggested that fire and forest thinning could deter the grizzly bears from railway areas as well as removing vegetation near rail corridors. It was found that railways greasers attracted the bears so solar-powered electromats could give the wildlife a mild shock when stepped on. Whilst, this strategy has proved effective in other areas in the past, they do not work in the snow.
“Parks Canada takes protection of all our wildlife seriously,” Tania Peters, a spokeswoman for the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit of Parks Canada said. “We are making efforts to reduce — although we know we will never eliminate — human-caused mortalities along railways and highways.
Glen Wilson, Assistant Vice-President Environmental Risk, CP said in a statement; "CP has a proud history of working closely with Parks Canada in protecting our national parks. The results of this five-year partnership will help CP and other stakeholders make decisions that ensure the on-going health of the grizzly bear population while continuing to meet the needs of the North American economy. CP is pleased to have taken a leadership role on this initiative, the results of which will also assist other railways in better managing their own relationships with wildlife."
Together Parks Canada and CP are optimistic that these targeted science-based mitigations on and off the railway will help to reduce the risk to grizzly bears along the railway in Banff and Yoho national parks.
The research is fascinating and you can read more here on the Parks Canada website.
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