February 28, 2013

The Year of the Cat

Remote camera footage courtesy of Parks Canada
According to the Chinese horoscope, we are officially in the year of the snake, but you wouldn't know it here in Banff National Park.  In January, a family of cougars were caught on the park's wildlife cameras, working their way through a deer they'd hunted on the outskirts of the town of Banff.  And here in Lake Louise, our local lynx and her now ten-month-old kitten have been making a big splash through February.  We've seen them on a snowshoeing tour, there's been numerous roadside sightings, and many skiers have caught a glimpse of them crossing the runs at the Lake Louise ski area.

Photo courtesy of Alex Taylor, Parks Canada
But the best sighting came from our friend Alex Taylor, who works for Parks Canada as a wildlife-conflict specialist. A few weeks ago, while patrolling the TransCanada highway, Alex saw the two lynx trying to get across the road.  He and the highways crew stopped traffic, and then the cats decided to put on a show by going through the fence, rather than climbing it.  The mesh is just over six inches by six inches, and yet these two lynx proved to be real contortionists.  They squeezed their heads through first, then one leg and shoulder, then the other leg and shoulder, and finally, the hips and back legs.

Nadine showcasing the 6.5 X 6.5 inch mesh of the fence
The park gave us permission to post one of Alex's excellent photos.  If you want to see the full sequence of shots, the Parks Canada facebook page is lynx central.

There has been concern about the lynx not being stopped by the fence, but this is the first documented case of them fitting through the mesh. The fencing is very successful at keeping wildlife off the roads most of the time, and in March, 2012, a lynx crossed the highway using one of the wildlife overpasses, another first.

It's truly been The Year of the Cat.  Take it, Al Stewart.

February 4, 2013

Wildlife Crossings in the News

People often ask us “do the wildlife crossings in Banff actually work?”  The obvious answer is yes: tens of thousands of large mammal crossings have been recorded in the park over the past 15 years, and the fencing along the highway keeps most animals off the road.

Wildlife overpass in Banff National Park

A harder question to answer is this one: “Are they cost-effective?”  According to a report by the Miistakis Institute, who study highway safety, the answer is yes. Near Dead Man's Flats, just outside of Banff National Park, a three kilometre section of highway was fenced in 2004, and outfitted with a wildlife underpass. Since then, the number of crashes between cars and animals has dropped considerably, and that means society has saved a lot of money.  Insurance claims are way down, and when people and animals aren't hurt, we are all winners.

Wildlife underpass, Banff National Park

The Miistakis report has inspired the transportation department in Alberta to look at other highways in the province, to see if they are good candidates for fences and underpasses.  If you drive through Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta, there's a good chance you'll see wildlife-saving measures on Highway #3 in the future.