An unexpected villain is killing grizzly bears in Canada: the railroad. Since 2000, 11 grizzly bears have been killed inside Banff National Park by the railway tracks, and another two were killed outside the park. In that same period, eight grizzly bears were killed along the Trans Canada Highway. “It’s particularly a problem for the female grizzly bears, which was really concerning for us because they are obviously critical to the population,” explained Michel, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Parks Canada. Michel’s team will monitor local bears with GPS tracking devices as part of a much larger effort to prevent bear/train collisions.
In order to protect the bears, Parks Canada teamed up with the Canadian Pacific Railway on a five-year, $1-million initiative, which includes several other research projects. “What is most exciting from CP’s perspective is that there are a lot of people who have scientific backgrounds,” Breanne Feigel, a spokeswoman from CP, said. “We are getting the best of the best together.” The teams include experts in the fields of bear biology, transportation management, animal behavior, and conservation biology. They believe the bears are attracted to the railways because they are looking for food. The team is currently researching vegetation management along railway tracks and highways, along with aversion tactics for grains that may spill out of the trains.
“There is definitely evidence of Parks Canada and CP investing significant resources,” said Sarah Elmeligi, a senior conservation planner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s southern Alberta chapter. “It’s going to take a few years to solve some of these problems… Hopefully we’ll get some solutions that will prevent bears from being schmucked by trains.” By monitoring the bears with GPS tracking devices, the researchers can study their behavior, and hopefully better understand why the bears are being run over. The GPS tracking devices attached to 11 grizzly bears are sure to provide valuable information. “We’re at the cutting edge, we’re breaking new ground,” said Kris McCleary, Parks Canada science adviser for mountain parks and the project manager for the bear/train collision initiative. “We’re going to have a really good picture of bear/train collisions.”