Starting out as a simple road project, the Banff wildlife overpasses have become one of the greatest success stories and an example to other countries.
The increase in endangered and extinct species is a crucial issue on a global level. While many other natural and man-made reasons contributed to the same, a consistent problem was the highways and roads crossing various habitats. With over 100,000 collisions on average, something had to be done. The early 1980s saw a thin silver line of hope when Tony Clevenger and his team started their simple project of a highway expansion at Banff. While the motive was ideally convenience for motorcyclists and to avoid accidents, what began as a development that would bring marvelous change.
Allotting over $400 million for this project and further development, the Canadian government had promising ideas in mind. From a simple expansion, the project broadened to a mission of protecting and providing for the wildlife around the mountainous and other Banff areas, as reported by the Nature Conservancy, Canada. Soon enough, the number of underpasses increased. Clevenger said in the interview with Mongabay News, “In the first two or three years of the work, I still didn’t quite understand it, but there was just a lot of skepticism from biologists who believed that wildlife crossing structures weren’t effective, even though they had no data to prove it and hadn’t done any monitoring.” Yet, in all their persistence, research and more, the reduction in wildlife accidents by over 80% spoke depths.
What evolved from there on was only a way forward with a more selfless approach. It was now about the wildlife and not just the safety issue. As Clevenger and his team’s research pointed out; isolation, wandering and several other issues that threatened the survival of these species were connected with the road issues. This led to the development of two overpasses that were more than what you can imagine for these animals. These passes provided a way for the animals to connect to their habitat easily.
The natural bridge-like structure with its vegetation and protection on the edges ensured the animals felt safe passing through. In the same interview, Garvey-Darda, a Forest Service biologist said, "I really never envisioned that deer and elk would just adjust and use the crossing structures as part of their home range. It’s pretty beyond cool for me.” These overpasses resemble a friendly hand forward in living jointly with the diverse life.
What is often forgotten is that these forests and dense areas are the animals’ homes, the road is the visitor here. The unique part about the Banff success story is that it solves the problem from both perspectives, humans and wildlife as well. This story doesn't end here and is the beginning of something thoughtful and beautiful. “What we’ve learned [in Banff] has been used worldwide,” Clevenger said. While there is more in store in Canada, similar projects have been proposed in Asia, Latin America, Costa Rica and other places. Many are seeing initiations of the same and the result of the success at the Banff is a significant influence. What began as a simple construction project is now changing the lives of many and saving the diverse and rich animal life globally.