BOZEMAN, Mont. Within sight of the Trans-Canada Highway, a team of ecologists with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University set out on foot for a nearby site where they'd strung wire snags to catch the fur of passing bears.
In the short distance they walked, with Canada's busiest transportation artery paralleling a prime patch of buffalo berries in the Bow River bottomland, the team spotted five grizzly bears, including a sow with two cubs.
Since counting and genetically identifying bears was critical for Mike Sawaya, Tony Clevenger and Steven Kalinowski's three-year field study on the effects of the highway's wildlife crossing structures on Banff National Park bear populations, it was all in a day's work, Sawaya said.
"We spent a ton of time in the backcountry and had a lot of really great days out there," said Sawaya, a 2012 graduate of MSU. "Fortunately we never had any really scary experiences. But seeing those particular bears, thankfully from a safe distance, did illustrate that the Trans-Canada Highway wildlife crossings allow safe access to that low-elevation Bow River habitat."
Sawaya said roads are the most common form of man-made disruption to wildlife habitat and, in the case of the Trans-Canada Highway, pose a direct threat to a threatened Alberta grizzly bear population. The study of how bears use wildlife crossings was part of Sawaya's doctoral work, for which he teamed up with Alberta-based wildlife biologist Clevenger, a senior research scientist at WTI, and Kalinowski, an associate professor of ecology at MSU who was Sawaya's adviser.
The 25 wildlife crossings in Banff were installed during the 1990s, to keep motorists and wildlife safe. Two of the crossings are overpasses built with enough width and vegetation to resemble the surrounding forest. The rest of the structures are culverts or bridges. The crossings work in conjunction with high fencing installed along the road
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University