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Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art, Part II - Connectivity


Last month I wrote about the Nahanni National Park Reserve and its amazing expansion three years ago. This time, let’s talk about another theme of the Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art show - connectivity.

In a period of environmental change and biodiversity lost, working on preserving large-scale landscape connectivity is more important than ever. That’s why CPAWS works to protect places like the Canadian Boreal forest and the Eastern Woodlands. Yellowstone to Yukon is an archetype of a large-scale landscape vision applied collaboratively in an area that encompasses many national parks in both Canada and the United States, including Waterton, Banff-Jasper, Nahanni, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier, as well as national forests, private land conservancies, cities, towns, roads, and railways. The objective is to maintain habitat connectivity and help reconnect natural areas with biological corridors so that the ecosystem can function as a whole.

Why do we need to connect pieces of the landscape together?

  • To avoid the “island of extinction” phenomenon, where habitats become so fragmented that the wildlife they support essentially become trapped and are unable to migrate to other portions of the landscape;
  • To ensure healthy wildlife populations levels;
  • To facilitate climate change adaptation for wildlife; and
  • To mitigate human footprint.

Take, for example, the wildlife overpasses and underpasses in Banff National Park, which CPAWS has been actively involved with for decades that help to restore habitat connectivity and greatly reduce highway collisions of wildlife. Banff has the most extensive system in the world for mitigating highway fragmentation, which keeps the north and south sections of the park connected. If you’ve travelled on the Trans-Canada highway in Banff National Park within the last ten years, you likely would have seen one of the overpasses that form this network.

Do they work? The answer is yes.

More than 225,000 crossings have been monitored since 1996. This includes crossings for animals such as grizzly and black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and more recently wolverine and lynx.

There is, of course, a learning curve for certain animals beginning to use these wildlife crossings after they’re built. For wary animals like grizzly bears and wolves, it may take up to five years before they feel secure using newly built crossings. Once they begin to use them, however, they’re able to spend time on both sides of the highway and will use the crossings on a regular basis.

One of Banff’s resident grizzlies, Bear 64, is a good example of how these crossings are helping wildlife. She has raised her cubs and foraged for food on both sides of the highway – there’s a great video in the art show that shows her movement from one side to the other. A few weeks ago, I saw Bear 64 and her three yearling cubs on the Bow Valley Parkway (which is on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway) eating dandelions, while just a few weeks earlier she was on the south side, roaming around the Vermillion Lakes. She has learned to use the overpass instead of the highway itself to get from one side to the other, and her cubs have been using it since their very first summer. It is as much a part of their home as the rest of the landscape in the park.

Overpasses and underpasses are just one method we employ to mitigate fragmentation, but connectivity in a large-scale system can only be achieved with a wide range of strategies and tools.

Land use planning, conservation easements, adaptive management practices and collaboration are all important in working towards our objective of maintaining habitat connectivity in our parks.
I hope you can come out to the Rockies to see the Yellowstone to Yukon art show and learn more about connectivity. If you can’t, be sure to visit the online exhibit on the website of our conservation partners in the Rockies, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

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Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art presents paintings and sculptures from the permanent collections of the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. In addition, as a special commissioned part of the show, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative sent acclaimed artist Dwayne Harty into the field to discover anew the landscape and wildlife along the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. For three summers, Harty traveled and painted in some of the most remote regions of the area, capturing scenes that few, if any, painters have sketched firsthand.

Photo, top: © Parks Canada / J. Klafki, Wolverine Overpass in Banff National Park
Photo, bottom right: Marie-Eve Marchand, Bear 64 and cub in Banff National Park