Wildlife study in the Crowsnest Pass

Nicholas Allen
Pass Herald Reporter

A recent wildlife camera monitoring project gives insight into the crossings of animals on the highway through the Crowsnest Pass. According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), we are now better under-stand how wildlife is moving throughout the Crowsnest Pass, a place where vehicle-wildlife collisions are a costly and tragic problem.

“It's a very important hub... We have the highest diversity of mammals in North America, but it's also a pinch point in the wildlife corridor,” said Emilie Brien, Natural Area Manager for the Castle-Crowsnest Watershed at NCC.

The NCC and Miistakis Institute have completed the first-year, preliminary results from their joint three-year wildlife camera monitoring project in the Crowsnest Pass, called Linking Landscapes.

“After one year of study, it's not quite enough data to really make hard conclusions, but we're hoping that after three years, we can really give recommendations to Alberta Transportation on what modification methods would work best,” said Brien.

Since the cameras were being installed on land that was privately owned, they were unsure if they would be able to get permission.

“We didn't know how landowners would react when we asked them about in-stalling cameras on their land but overwhelmingly, people were super supportive,” said Brien.

37 remote cameras were installed along Highway 3, a popular section of highway for motorists and animals alike. They were installed in a wildlife corridor Nature Conservancy of Canada owns and named after former Premier, the late Jim Prentice in 2018.  

“Funding is always an issue for a big project... [funding] was a bit scary at the beginning, but it went really well,” said Brien.

21 volunteers put in 333 volunteer hours managing the cameras and identifying species, including white-tailed deer, black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, cougar, moose and elk among others.

“With so many cameras, we need to look at every single photo one by one to identify the animals... that would not be possible without the help of our fantastic volunteers,” said Brien.

One of the discoveries was that wildlife are active and crossing at the railway underpass and at the Crowsnest River bridge, showing potential to change these structures to improve safe wildlife movement.  

“We put cameras on some crossing structures that already exist. We realized that these two are the only ones that were used by wildlife and [the crossings are] only used by very few species. I think it's only white-tailed deer, red fox and cougars that really use them. All the other animals don't use them, so that means they all cross on the highway,“ said Brien.

The hope is these results will someday inform motor vehicle accident mitigation efforts in the area, to lower the risk of collisions for both people and wildlife. 

Visit natureconservancy.ca for more information on the Nature Conservancy of Canada.