Michele Jarvie, Postmedia News | February 9, 2017
Some wildlife activists and Banff business owners are voicing disappointment over recently released results of a $1-million, five-year study into bear deaths on train tracks in mountain national parks.
Jim Pissot of WildCanada Conservation Alliance, says the recommendations to create alternative habitat and escape routes, manage vegetation, install early warning systems and electric mats ignore one glaring reason grizzlies are attracted to the tracks — spilled grain from rail cars.
“Bizarrely, after six years of study, Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific have blamed the bears,” said Pissot. “They are determined that the bears, wolves and other wildlife must change their behaviour, but CP will not have to.”
The study found that approximately 110 tonnes of grain is lost on the tracks each year, which is equivalent to the annual nutritional needs of 50 adult grizzlies. In the past 10 years, 10 grizzlies have been killed by trains in Banff and Yoho parks.
But the study’s research team found a number of reasons why bears are attracted to the railway, including ease of movement along the rail corridor, abundance of berries and other plants and, to a lesser extent, spilled grain.
“It’s not the only factor attracting them, and may not be the main one,” said University of Alberta professor Colleen Cassady St. Clair.
She said they looked at grain spillage and train speed, and found more grain was spilled the slower the train travelled. More grain was also deposited at the west end of the park, yet the grizzly bear mortality was higher at the east end.
When the study results were released in January, CP officials said they had no plans to adjust procedures or policies beyond continuing to respond to grain spills with vacuum and blower trucks.
Critics question why Parks Canada is not pushing Canadian Pacific to take action.
“Death on CP tracks is the number one human cause of grizzly bear mortality in Banff National Park,” said Stephen Herrero, professor emeritus at the University of Calgary and one of Canada’s foremost experts on grizzly bears. “The railway needs to do more.”
Juniper Hotel hotelier Peter Poole said wildlife deaths negatively impact tourists and, potentially, Banff businesses.
“Our guests — and Canadian taxpayers — are dismayed when the elk and bears in our national parks are killed unnecessarily. There are straightforward solutions that would cost pennies for each tonne of cargo going through our mountain parks; let’s get on with it.”