Narrow bridges

The bridges aim to help the pronghorn cross the highway

A short list of sites has been developed for potential wildlife crossings on the Trans-Canada Highway in eastern Alberta

They may be the fastest mammals on the continent, but crossing the Trans-Canada Highway is always risky for the iconic antelope.

Now environmentalists are trying to make this trip safer. They’ve developed a short list of sites on which to build wildlife overpasses, after more than three years of collecting data from the public, according to Paul Jones, wildlife biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association.

“There are eight for Alberta – three of them on the freeway that goes north to Suffield from the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 884) and the other five are on the east side of Medicine Hat,” he said. he said, adding that these will be reduced. to one to begin with.

A partnership of environmental groups developed the Wildlife Xing phone app for the public to report animals they see along the highway that was launched in late 2017 and has since seen a plethora of data collected.

For the American antelope, this information focused on the main routes taken by the animal across the Trans-Canada Highway between Brooks, Alta., And Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Jones said the information provided by Citizen Scientists is consistent with the antelope migration path models developed by Andrew Jakes of the University of Calgary, which were based on animals with GPS collars that tracked the paths. borrowed by the antelope in spring and fall.

“This is about determining where potential mitigation actions could occur and we are seeing stronger alignments between citizen science data and Dr. Jakes’ models and animal collision data from Alberta Transportation,” Jones said.

Collectively, these data points contribute to a better understanding of the distance traveled by antelope herds in any given year.

“That’s what we’re starting to understand across North America, it’s these long distance migrations and how imperiled they are,” Jones said. “When we have these major winters and they can’t move south to escape the harsh conditions, that’s when we see high mortality and populations decline.”

Jones said if nothing is done to improve the connectivity of the routes used by the American antelope, it could threaten the population.

One of the problems is the problems encountered by antelopes during years of heavy and durable snow, during which the animals have difficulty reaching the forage under the snow.

Historically, there is evidence that the problem was traditionally solved with the American antelope following bison herds, which trampled large parts of the snowy prairie to allow access to pasture.

Although the American antelope has adapted, a bad winter can still have lethal effects.

The winter of 2009-2010 saw a sharp decline in the American antelope population due to the amount of snow that blanketed the main corridor used by animals, pushing them towards downtown areas like Medicine Hat. This has caused dozens of antelope deaths due to their consumption of poisonous domestic garden shrubs, as well as vehicle collisions. Heavy snow last winter saw a Canadian Pacific Railway train prey on a herd standing on the tracks, killing dozens of antelope along the tracks near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.

“Antelopes get on the rails and their defense is speed and they think they can overtake trains and they quickly learn that they can’t,” Jones said.

“Looking at the landscape as a whole, if you were to put in mitigation measures on Highway 1, you should also consider the rail tracks, as they run parallel to the highway. “

However, building wildlife overpasses won’t come cheap.

“They don’t come cheap when you are installing overpasses,” Jones said. “You want to do the science to make sure you can focus on the right place. Then, it will look for potential sources of funding.

Jones said a report on the information gathered from the Wildlife Xing app will be completed before the end of the year. From there, a more in-depth analysis of the sites pre-selected for a possible viaduct will be undertaken.

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