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Grizzly bear on Highway 11 near Timber Creek - Alberta
Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Four Grizzly Bears Killed On The Trans Canada Highway In Less Than A Week

Efforts to protect grizzly bears are invaluable, but more can be done to minimize vehicle-wildlife collisions

A few days after Nakoda and her two cubs were killed in separate vehicle-wildlife collisions on the same day, another grizzly bear was struck and killed on the Trans Canada Highway. 

Grizzly Bear in dandelions along a highway
One of a Grizzly’s favourite foods in the spring are dandelions which are most frequently found in the ditchs beside mountain highways | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

The accident happened along an unfenced section of the highway near Field, British Columbia and involved an older male grizzly that Parks Canada was not aware of.

The accident happened in Yoho National Park, marking the fourth collision-related grizzly death this year.

Four might not sound like a lot, but there are as few as 11 grizzlies in the Yoho compared to Banff National Park’s estimated grizzly population of 65. 

Grizzlies also have one of the lowest reproduction rates of all North American land mammals. Female grizzlies don’t start reproducing until between five to eight years of age.

A female grizzly produces a litter of two to three cubs every three to five years. Females in the mountain national parks are even slower, producing young every four to five years.

To put things into perspective, a female and a male grizzly bear born today could produce a grizzly population of just eight bears in ten years.

By comparison, a pair of white-tailed deer could pump out over 1,400 fawns in the same amount of time. 

Nakoda’s death was especially devastating because she was the only young reproducing female grizzly in the entire Lake Louise subpopulation. 

“Grizzly bears are considered a species of special concern. They’re a very slow-reproducing animal, so every female grizzly bear that’s killed in the park is a significant loss,” Saudi Stevens, Parks Canada’s wildlife management specialist, told CP24.

Last week, Nakoda became the sixth breeding female grizzly killed in the Lake Louise subpopulation in the last four years. 

According to Parks Canada, 13 bears, including black and brown, have been killed so far this year by vehicles or trains in the Yoho, Kootenay, and Lake Louise regions.

Nakoda with her two cubs
Nakoda with her two cubs | Government of Canada | CTV News

Addressing The Root Of The Problem

The name Nakoda, which translates to “friend” in the Stoney language, fits her perfectly. Her appearance and silly antics brought smiles to thousands of people. 

“…first her cubs get hit and then within 24 hours, she gets hit and then within another 24 hours, she succumbs to those injuries – when I heard the news, it was devastating,” John E. Marriott, wildlife photographer and co-founder of the Exposed Wildlife Conservancy, told Global News.

Since Parks Canada started monitoring Nakoda in 2022, Marriott has praised the agency’s efforts toward protecting the rare white grizzly. 

As cities and suburbs expand, some animal species are being forced to adapt to urban environments, increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife conflicts
As cities and suburbs expand, some animal species are being forced to adapt to urban environments, increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife conflicts | Canmore RCMP | Global News

Nakoda’s death devastated wildlife enthusiasts, but Marriott acknowledges how difficult the loss must be for Parks Canada too. 

“For two years, they’ve been monitoring her from dawn to dusk, and they’ve been doing a fantastic job keeping her alive, but…they still weren’t able to keep her on the landscape…,” explained Marriott.

Nakoda’s death should be meaningful, not meaningless. Her loss highlights the importance of wildlife management and the effects of overdevelopment. 

People flock to Alberta’s Rocky Mountains for many things, including the mountains’ diverse and rich wildlife – but more people moving to the mountains means more development. 

“I live in Canmore and we’re doubling, tripling in size in the next decade. What’s going to happen with the wildlife? What are the long-term side effects going to be?” asked Marriott. 

Climate change and human development impact ecological connectivity, which refers to animals’ ability to move freely from one place to another. 

The warming global temperature creates more frequent and extreme weather events that destroy wildlife habitats and the resources animals rely on.

At the same time, human development, infrastructure, and agriculture often break up or destroy wildlife habitats, forcing animals into urban areas.

“Are there any bears that are going to be able to figure out how to live in this valley with five million people, a national highway, a national railway, golf courses, ski hills, everything? Or are we just going to have an area that grizzly bears become extirpated from?” asked Marriott.

A grizzly bear parking its bottom next to a no stopping zone on the Trans Canada Highway
A grizzly bear parking its bottom next to a no stopping zone on the Trans Canada Highway | Brian Spreadbury | Parks Canada | CBC News

Course Of Action

Climate change and human development are two of the many obstacles wildlife in Alberta and worldwide face. 

While Parks Canada‘s efforts to protect our province’s grizzly bears have been invaluable, Marriott believes there is still more the agency can do.

He believes Parks Canada should pressure some of its partners, such as the Canadian Pacific Railway and Transport Canada, to implement strategies, such as speed limits, to minimize train-wildlife collisions.

Unfortunately, speed is arguably the most important factor in influencing railways’ profit. Most railways are not on board with the idea of reducing train speed.

Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a science professor at the University of Alberta, suggests reducing speed in areas where the risk of wildlife collisions is high.

Park visitors getting stupidly close to a bear to take a photo in Banff National Park
Park visitors getting stupidly close to a bear to take a photo in Banff National Park | CBC News

In collaboration with Parks Canada biologists and her team in the Department of Biological Sciences, she studied the mortality records of 646 train-wildlife collisions reported by the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1995 to 2018 in the Banff and Yoho National Parks to develop solutions to reduce collisions. 

St. Clair found that train speed was the most common characteristic of areas with high train-wildlife fatalities. 

Since reducing train speed overall isn’t realistic, she suggests limiting it only in areas with high train-wildlife collisions. 

“If the speed limit change were moved by just four kilometres farther away from the townsites, where trains slow anyway for human safety, it would have covered those two hotspots of grizzly bear mortality,” said St. Clair while discussing the railway near Banff. 

Wildlife conservation is easier said than done. 

It’s easy to ask Parks Canada to enforce 24-hour speed limits on the Trans Canada Highway or monitor animals like Nakoda 24 hours a day, but these things cost money. 

We want to be close to what we love, including our province’s incredible wildlife. But in doing so, we are smothering our animals. 

“What we really need to be looking at is how we approach our relationship with nature, with these wild spaces, and these wild animals and give them the space and the opportunity to live the lives they need in the wild.“We need to do a lot more management of ourselves,” said Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation.

There are many ways to help our animals, whether by writing to government officials about overdevelopment or supporting conservation groups. 

Wildlife conservation isn’t the responsibility of Parks Canada – it’s a shared responsibility among everyone who calls Alberta home and enjoys our wildlife. 

Over 60 bears in the Yoho, Kootenay, and Lake Louise regions have been killed by cars or trains
Over 60 bears in the Yoho, Kootenay, and Lake Louise regions have been killed by cars or trains | Cowboy State Daily

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