Bears in the Mountain National Parks
Wildlife roam freely across park boundaries. Researchers use telemetry to track their movements over great distances.
As part of a community of protected areas, the Canadian mountain national parks have benefited from experience gained in other places and from the fresh thinking of knowledgeable people who share an interest in these special places. To achieve our bear conservation goals, we must look across boundaries—geographical, political, organizational—and involve people in finding solutions to challenges large and small, by learning and doing, and working together.
“Strengthening connections among people and reducing fragmentation in the landscape will become increasingly important as a strategy for adapting to future pressures.” - 2010 Banff National Park of Canada Management Plan
Canadian Pacific Railroad
Figure 1. Relative amounts of human caused grizzly bear mortalities in the Mountain National Parks between 1990 and 2010. Data are shown as percent of total (n=52) by causal factor see parks report: Bertch and Gibeau 2010 for full details. © Parks Canada
Canadian Pacific Railway and Parks Canada are working together to reduce the probability of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos)/train collisions. Based on records kept for the past 20 years, grizzly bears are killed most commonly on railroads in Canada's mountain national parks (Banff, Yoho, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier). Although train-grizzly bear kills are only slightly more common than vehicle kills (Figure 1), park roads out distance railroads by 4 to1. This has lead biologists and railroad employees to ask why railroads are so dangerous for bears.
For more than 20 years, both organizations have collected baseline data to increase their understanding of the problem. They have tracked the number and causes of deaths for grizzly bears and other species since the 1990s. The early stages of data collection revealed bears were consuming grain leaked from hopper cars.
Designed to measure the amount of grain spilled on the tracks, the first grain monitoring project began in 2006. In 2007 a maintenance overhaul of the federal grain hopper car fleet began. In the past four years, this program has upgraded more than 5,000 grain cars. As a result, grain spill has decreased by 61% between 2008 and 2010 in Banff and Yoho national parks (Figure 2). Canadian Pacific is continuing its work to reduce grain spill through continued repair and grain car inspection. Maintenance employees are also working to clean spills when they occur with a vacuum truck.
Figure 2. The median grams of grain spilled per day on one linear foot of the Canadian Pacific Railroad through Banff and Yoho ational Parks, estimated as grams per day for each year. Grain was collected during the entire year from ten locations every four days. See parks report: Dorsey 2011 for full details and methods. © Parks Canada
Despite these improvements, numerous bears have learned to forage along the tracks and use the railroad to travel within the park. In 2009, Parks Canada biologists began measuring the amount of time bears spent on the railroad to estimate the effectiveness of future mitigations designed to deter bears from the tracks. They found bears spent the most time on the tracks in early spring when little other food was available. Bears were found to use the railroad the most in locations with higher grain accumulations; but this was not where they were most commonly struck by trains. A graduate student from Montana State University used this information to identify risky zones for bears. The same student also identified railroad design features correlated with mortality risk.
Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific host the Railway Bear Conflict Mitigation Symposium in Banff National Park in 2011
Based on what Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific have learned so far, they have committed to further understanding the root causes of bear-train collisions and developing solutions to discourage bears from using high mortality risk zones. A number of promising solutions will be tested this summer, including a spike mat aimed at passively deterring bears from moving on or across the railroad. Other solutions and exclusionary fencing are also under development. These solutions will be tested and refined for implementation implemented if proven effective. Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific are working to test the efficacy and safety of proposed mitigations. Much work is needed to devise solutions that will not cause derailment, present other safety hazards for rail operations, people and wildlife. These solutions are components of a larger joint research plan and mitigation strategy. A final strategy will be finalized in October 2011, after international and academic expert review.
What YOU Can Do
You can be part of Parks Canada’s conservation team, whether you spend time in the parks, or enjoy and value them from afar. The best thing you can do to help bears is to learn about them, their habits, challenges, and the type of world they need to survive. Being knowledgeable about what it takes to keep bears on the “big picture” landscape will help you make informed decisions about how your actions can help or hinder these fascinating animals.
Help bears by:
- becoming a Parks Canada steward—love our protected places, learn about them, let others know why these places matter
- learning all you can about bears—take in an interpretive talk, or visit your local zoo
- doing your homework before stepping into bear country and following bear-safe guidelines
- supporting habitat restoration initiatives within protected places
- backing the efforts of our wildlife specialists, Bear Guardians and park staff by adhering to park rules, regulations, warnings, closures, and recommendations while in the parks
Here’s how others are helping to protect bears:
Canadian Pacific Railway is working with Parks Canada to reduce the probability of grizzly bear deaths due to train collisions. A $1 million joint research program is generating cutting-edge solutions to an age-old problem.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development provides in-depth information on the characteristics, history, behaviour and management of black and grizzly bears in the province.
British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy
The province of British Columbia supports one of the largest populations of black bears and the second largest population of grizzly bears in North America.
Canadian two dollar coin © Royal Canadian Mint. All rights reserved.
Polar Bears International
Polar bears are Canada's third bear species and live in the circumpolar north far from the mountain national parks. Polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem on which they rely remind us there are no boundaries with respect to climate change.
Wapusk National Park protects one of the world's largest known polar bear maternity denning sites. Did you know Wapusk means “White Bear” in Cree?