The Redearth Ecoduct of Banff, Canada

Monday, October 10th – HAPPY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY! We are stoked to celebrate this day by covering a special part of Canada. Our journey this week takes us to Alberta’s Rocky Mountains- specially Banff National Park, Canada. Located on the boarder of Alberta and British Columbia, this national park is nestled at the bottom of a mountain the First Nation peoples know as Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain. The Redearth Wildlife Overpass is more than a bridge. It’s a symbol of the mutualistic relationship between man’s built environment and the natural environment. Before getting to know the Redearth Overpass, it’s important to start from the beginning in Banff.

As the Canadian Pacific Railway Company began building the transcontinental railway in the 1870s, prestigious areas of Banff were founded – like Sulphur Mountain. As the area became more established, the Canadian government had tourism top of mind and established the park in 1887. In the following years, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company built the Banff Springs Hotel to house the incoming tourists and rail passengers. Throughout the history of Banff there have been a multitude of exclusionary policies for removing or attempting to “civilize” the First Nations people and it’s only recently that Parks Canada and the city of Banff have made attempts to reconcile this.

The railway company was the predecessor to the Trans-Canada Highway. The genesis of the highway came from the Trans-Canada Highway Act of 1949 and was completed in 1962. Where the TCH met the eastern edge of Banff, however, the highway condensed from 4 lanes to 2. As one would expect, this caused accidents as traffic increased so in 1978 Public Works Canada proposed “twinning” the highway from the eastern gate of the park to the Banff townsite. “Twinning” is defined as doubling the lanes of a given stretch of road and in this case the 2 lane highway would be doubled to 4 lanes. Another twinning project was proposed as plans for first one become more concrete.

This spurred much debate with the people of Banff. As some argued that a larger highway would make the roads safer for people, others argued that the expansion would be harmful for the park and its animals. Not only did people argue that the twinning project would cause more animal-vehicle collisions, there were also concerns that the road may interrupt breeding practices, migratory behaviors, etc (think about it, they were bisecting a massive National Park with a major highway!).

The great people of Canada thus decided that the road would be expanded for the safety of the people, but Parks Canada would take it upon themselves to reduce the number of wildlife deaths as well in spite of the expansion.

The boys wanted to point out how incredible of a project this was as it was no easy feat. At first, highway fencing and the use of wildlife underpasses were recommended but information on where to locate the wildlife crossings, how many to create, or what kinds of underpasses animals would use was extremely limited. So the parks team decided to include various types of crosses (22 underpasses and 2 overpasses).

And of course… there were haters (at first). Editorials scoffed at the waste of taxpayers money and commented that the animals would never use these expensive man-made bridges. Others believed the crossings would lead to increased killings due to wolves herding and violently killing prey at the crossings. OH BOY, were they wrong.

To take a step back, the boys wanted to quote the Parks Canada FAQ:

Q: Why do animals cross the highway?

A: Animals need to cross the highway to search out companionship, mates, food, shelter, and in some cases, to escape predators.

So now we know the answer to the lifelong question…

The number of crossings ended up increasing to 38 underpasses and 6 overpasses. The Redearth Overpass is the crown jewel of these structures. The boys had a tough time getting the dimensions of the bridge, but luckily Andreas has been inspired by Jeremy and decided to calculate the dimensions himself. He found the length to be 8.33 ABEs, and the width to be 40.3 ABEs (if you’re asking yourself what an ABE is you need to listen to more Bridge Boys episodes!)

The impacts of the ecoducts is fascinating! It was found that highway fencing has reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80%. What is most important is that in 1966 Parks Canada agreed to a long-term research project in order to monitor the impact of the crossings. These studies were very rigorous. Scientists used infrared cameras, in-person check ins, rakes for the bed of the crossing, barb wire fences for capturing hair and more! In addition to keeping animals (and people) safe the bridges also increased genetic diversity in certain species.

With the countless number of crossings, the Boys have some amazing stats on how the Redearth overpass (and the others) have helped animals of all kinds, including grizzly bears, wolves, deer, and more! Be sure to check out the episode to learn more.

With the wild success of this bridge came demand for more. Transportation ecologists began to flock to Banff so they could learn how to best implement effective animal crossings in their own regions. Projects in Montana, Washington state, and California have been implemented since then. Additionally projects have popped up in Mongolia, Argentina, and China! China has constructed 33 wildlife passages over and under the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to help Tibetan antelope during their migration.

There was one bridge specifically that pumped Andreas up so we decided to leave it here for you:

Sadly, the story has come full circle and scientists have noticed an uptick in animals deaths at the Canadian Pacific Railway, which did not receive the same wildlife-crossing treatment that the highway received. The railway is on privately owned land, so constructing overpasses and underpasses for the animals is not likely in its future (at least that was the case as of 2018)

But we can’t end on a sad note! Check out the Parks Canada video below of all of the fuzzy creatures crossing the Redearth Overpass and be sure to check out this weeks episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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