Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Elk Crossing on Highway 1 in Banff National Park

© By Othmar Vohringer

I received the following email from a member of the SHS Hunting Chat Forum.
“Build it and they will come
This is the actual turnoff from Banff to the # 1 highway to Calgary. Great picture isn't it? They had to build the animals (especially the elk) their own crossing because that was where the natural crossing was and after the highway was built there were far too many accidents. I understand it didn't take the animals long to learn that this was their road.”

I have seen this picture many times and each time I thought that I should get to the bottom of the story, and today I finally did. Was the bridge purposely built so elk and other wildlife can safely cross the busy Trans-Canada Highway, or is it an urban myth?

According to Parks Canada there have been fences, gates, cattle grates and wildlife walkways set up to ensure the safety of wildlife and road users along the highway section that leads through the wildlife rich part of the Banff National Park. However the bridge was not built for the wildlife. The elk use the Canadian Pacific Railroad overpass; according to local residents the elk and other wildlife have learned to use the railroad bridge to safely cross the busy highway. How adaptive animals are is illustrated by locals who say that the wildlife not only learned to use the railroad bridge but also seem to know the times when trains approach the bridge.

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SimplyOutdoors said...

What a great picture. That is incredible. Wild animals will definitely do some amazing things to adapt to their surroundings.

Eagle Eyes said...

Thanks for the research, Othmar! I bet this would be a real "shocker" for a tourist driving through the area. Great photo.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I lived in St. Paul, Minn., for a while, where they actually did build a tunnel under a highway for an animal crossing. The highway paralleled the Mississippi River, and there were, in fact, tons of animals going back and forth.

Sadly, I don't have a picture of any animals crossing. But it's true - they did it for the animals. Or perhaps for the cars that otherwise would've been destroyed running into the animals.

Anonymous said...

I really didn't think they built that crossing simply for animals, but it is pretty amazing that they figured out how to do it. Thanks for doing the research so we can all know the real story.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Arthur – Animals are certainly masters in adapting to all kinds of situations.

Eagle Eyes – Your welcome. I bet it is. I know from my wife, who has driven through the Banff National Park, that you can see all kinds of wildlife browsing or meandering right on the road side. I hope to take a drive though the park too one day.

Norcal Cazadora – Living as a kid in Switzerland I have seen many tunnels under highways for livestock and wildlife. I also have seen such tunnels in our hunting area, which predominantly consists of cattle ranges.

Kristine – The moment I saw the picture I thought, “Hang on a minute that bridge looks to darn expensive to be built only for wildlife.” Sure enough my research showed that it is a railway bridge, but still it is amazing how the wildlife figured out to use the bride as a crossing and in addition seems to know the time schedule of the trains. There are no reports of wildlife been killed by a train, that too is pretty amazing.


Marc - Editor, NYBOWHUNTER.COM said...

What a picture that is, it's incredible how smart and adaptable wild animals are.

Anonymous said...

It is fall in the Ozarks and everyone here is hunting crazy. This photo was emailed to our home because we visited Banff this summer. This bridge may not have been built for the animals to cross. However, as a new 4-lane is being built between Banff and Jasper National Park, the transportation department and parks department are DEFINITELY building "overpasses" for the animals and plenty of 10-12foot fencing to keep drivers and animals safe. P.S. The elk hang around like this at the edge of Jasper all summer.

Anonymous said...

The bridge shown in the picture wasn't built for wildlife but there is at least one other bridge built specifically for wildlife in the Park.

As far as wildlife killed by trains goes, there is a significant problem with bears being killed by trains. Sometimes train cars will leak grain onto the tracks and the bears hang around to eat it. Here's just one story:


- Southern Alberta Resident

Oh My Gawd said...

This bridge is very practical to motorists because it saves them life, limb and repairs or replacement costs. That alone would make it cost effective.

BTW have you ever tried to hunt with a camera? - It's MUCH HARDER to get the perfect shot, but then you don't get to eat it - Don't worry, I was raised on a 1,000 acres kept especially for deer hunting in California.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Oh my Gawd – “BTW have you ever tried to hunt with a camera?” Funny you should ask that. My wife is a wildlife photographer and I have found that she employs the same skills and tactics I use for bowhunting. In both cases you have to get very close to the game to get the perfect shot.


Anonymous said...

Banff is actually one of the model areas in terms of wildlife crossings, with deliberate passages throughout the area. Washington State is implementing a Highway 90 program that is also state-of-the-art in terms of the research and implementation. There are such deliberate wildlife passages in Florida and Montana and elsewhere and, of course, in Europe as you mention.

It's a growing element of our civic engineering, thank goodness. I wish Highway 1 in California had such crossings. It's literally a heart-stopping drive through some of those rural areas, with birds darting, deer, all manner of wildlife. It's one of the most beautiful but tragic roadways in this country.

As far as shooting with film/digital, I shoot exclusively with a camera and although the best shots do obviously arise from getting up close, I always stress to novice wildlife photographers that distance and respect are much more important than the shot.

The human-versus-wildlife stresses are so huge to begin with, the last thing they need is people chasing them with yet another "weapon." I find it sad that we are perceived as predators (rightly so) but that's the reality, and any human chasing with any means of disturbance is a threat and a stress to them. People don't seem to get that.

An avian biologist friend has a rule of thumb: If you've caused the animal to change it's behavior because of your presence, you're too close. I always use extremely long focal lengths (600 to 800mm) and try to abide by my biologist's admonition. I see people literally hounding wildlife these days -- not pros, but people with small cameras trying to get close to that sea lion or pelican.

I can't tell you how many times I have to "gently" educate people on the Marine Mammal Protection Act (100 yards) or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. There should be better signage everywhere in public areas because it's obvious to me that people aren't getting this information elsewhere.

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