Highways located in wild areas, especially large national parks, are typically very dangerous to wildlife, as animals are often killed while trying to venture across the roads. Animals need to cross highways to search for food, mates, and shelter. The presence of a road can prevent animals from crossing, or alternatively, can injure or kill those who do attempt the journey. Such barriers have less obvious impacts as well; for example, roads cause some animals to inbreed, and can also lead to isolation, potentially resulting in long-term genetic biodiversity loss.
Animals of all sizes (including wolves, bighorn sheep, deer, and lynx) use the underpass along the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. Altogether, the park has 38 underpasses and 6 overpasses. Highway Wilding is a partnered project that studies wildlife in the Canadian Rockies. Cameras that track black bears and grizzlies have helped scientists to discover that it took 5 years for grizzly bears to become accustomed to using the crossings. The overpass also helped improve conditions for mating.
Similar efforts are taking place elsewhere across the Trans-Canada Highway. At Kootenay National Park, wildlife underpasses were installed in 2013. Safety nets were also used to reduce the chance of fatalities resulting from animals crossing the road.
The installation of highway overpasses is not a new initiative - they have been constructed across the Trans-Canada highway since the 1990s.
The most recent installation of fencing and underpasses (6.5 km and 4, respectively) was planned for Kootenay National Park in 2015, as part of a Wildlife Crossing Project with Parks Canada. The white-tailed deer is the most frequently killed animal in this park (about 320 individuals between 2003 and 2012). An average of 53 large animals have been killed on the highway in these years, though the deaths of many smaller animals goes unreported.
However, since crossing projects were initiated in 1996, the number of animals killed via road strikes decreased by 80%, and over 150,000 animals have utilized the overpasses.
The installation of overpasses is part of Canada’s National Conservation Plan: Connecting Canadians to Nature. While helping Canada and its visitors experience nature, Parks Canada is also dedicated to monitoring the interaction between animals and highways.
Parks Canada is also planning to help aquatic species across highways by improving bridges and culverts.
When using roads, remember to to be aware of surrounding wildlife. If you do ever hit wildlife in or around a national park - even though there is no harm to you or the vehicle - always report the exact location of the incident to park staff. You can help by informing and educating others about the crossing program and the importance of wildlife to our country. Hopefully, we can continue to reduce the number of deaths resulting from activities due solely to human activity.