The Trans-Canada Highway is the world’s longest national highway. It spans a staggering 7,821 km (4,860 mi) across the country, linking several provincial highways along its route. While this design is great for traveling humans, it poses quite a threat to Canadian wildlife who get hit trying to cross its path. A group of concerned residents and conservationists are looking to change this statistic by pushing for the construction of wildlife overpasses.
“Since they were built, highway wildlife mortality due to collisions has reduced by 80% on average for large mammals generally and 96% for deer and elk,” explained Hilary Young, a member of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “So they’re highly successful and ultimately, the savings from collisions pay for the structures themselves.”
There are a number of wildlife overpasses in Canada’s many national parks, but the heavy traffic that the Trans-Canada Highway receives makes it a prime target; approximately 90% of all consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped by truck throughout the nation. Cinthia Nemoto, a resident of Canmore who has since joined the fight for wildlife overpasses, witnessed the fallout of a serious crash involving a semi-tractor-trailer and several elk.
“We saw the seven elk dead on the highway plus the semi-truck that hit them,” she said. “It shocked us. If it was a regular car, our car, if it was me driving, most likely I wouldn’t be alive right now.”
The damage is as costly as it is dangerous; one overpass in Banff reduced the cost in crashes by 90% — over a $100,000 savings — in a single two-mile stretch of road. Scientists believe that once routes are established for these animals (which may take five years or more), it becomes intergenerational knowledge; they’ll know precisely where to go. Knowing which one of four types of tires to use on your vehicle might keep you safe, but it won’t help these animals.
Young is hoping to bring the success of the Banff overpasses to this more-trafficked area of Highway 1, about 40 km east from the park gate all the way down to the Kananaskis River; she argued that 15 elk have been killed on the Canmore section of the Trans-Canada Highway in the last two months alone.
As the most-used manmade material in the world, concrete has done a lot for humanity; it’s high time it was used to aid and support nature. With the construction of more wildlife overpasses, concrete can be put towards a more productive and beneficial use.