Here’s some Global Gossip with a difference. Yesterday, on another unnaturally warm winter morning, I opened my email to find an amazing early spring scene from my cousin Beryl in Vancouver, a photo so surreal I thought at first that Beryl had been busy with PhotoShop. But on further reading I discover that there are indeed parts of the Trans-Canada Highway where not only elk may safely pass, but bears, moose, cougar, wolves, and bighorn sheep are also all invited to go over, under or along their own private lane to avoid fatal contact with the horseless carriage.
“For all of you that may not know it,” says Beryl, “this is the actual turnoff from Banff to the [Trans-Canada] # 1 highway to Calgary”
I was so intrigued by Beryl’s picture I spent some time Googling random searches such as ‘elk crossing Banff highway.’ A strange story of human perversity emerges in the development of the Trans-Canada Highway which goes bang smack through the most ecologically wild and wonderful part of Banff National Park. With no hint of irony the Parks Canada website acknowledges that during the 1980s people were concerned by the increasing numbers of collisions between vehicles and large mammals (no doubt the elk, moose, bears etc weren’t all that chuffed either).
The solution, accepted by the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), is to make more room for both cars and wildlife. ‘Twinning the Trans Canada Highway’ means doubling the road from two lanes to four lanes but alongside that goes fencing to keep unfortunate animals from straying on to the ribbon of death bisecting their territory, and what CPAWS calls “one of the best testing sites of innovative wildlife roadway crossings in the world”.
It seems to be working though ecologists are not completely satisfied. While ‘twinning’ makes slow progress (because it costs a hell of a lot of money), CPAWs are carrying out research to find out how many and what kind of animals actually use these extraordinary imaginative feats of engineering(just take a look on the Parks Canada website at the variety of wildlife crossing over and under TCH). So far, a length of string interwoven with barbed wire has picked up encouraging evidence of black and grizzly bears and the search goes on.
But here’s to the elk. And thanks to Beryl for a strangely heart warming insight into human nature. What an odd species we are.
[PS, 22 March 2009, nearly two years later the story continues to fire the imagination. See also Elk Ride Again and Again. ]