I guess I spoke too soon in my recent post about this wolf helping the pack with puppy chores in the spring. Just a few days ago, on the morning of Friday, April 5th this wolf’s life was cut short by a CP train in Banff National Park. The young male was just shy of its one year birthday.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it was killed by a train, after all this has been a routine event in Banff for years now. Trains remain the number one killer of Banff grizzly bears and in the past year numerous black bears and several wolves have also met their demise on the tracks. This is not even mentioning the elk, deer, moose and coyotes. Everything from the smallest birds to the largest mammals are commonly hit by the trains as they travel through the park.
The pack that this wolf belonged to has 2 of 6 pups remaining from last years litter. Only 1 of 7 pups from the previous year has survived. Of the two surviving 1-year-old pups, one was hit by a train in late fall while she and the rest of her family were feeding on a rail killed deer carcass next to the tracks. Somehow this wolf managed to survive the strike and miraculously has made it through the winter and appears to have almost completely healed from what I suspect was a fractured left hind limb. Of the seven pups born the previous year all but the surviving wolf were either hit by trains or cars.
Efforts continue between Parks Canada and CP Rail to research the factors that influence these train mortalities. While it’s great that they have committed time, money and staff to this problem, the fact remains that train caused wildlife deaths in the park have occurred on a frequent basis for years and despite some attempts to address the problem, it continues to happen on a very regular basis.The vacuum truck that is supposed to remove the grain spills doesn’t seem to come along the high risk areas of the tracks during the winter and it would seem that grain spills, which as you will see are pretty obvious, go unreported. Wildlife-train collisions are also not always reported and the strikes that are reported are not always appropriately removed from the tracks. Add in that parks staff have been cut thin to the point that they can’t always adequately respond to all the human wildlife conflict events in a timely manner and several other variables that are a product of chronic underfunding and we have a recipe for more wildlife carnage.
One has to see the hypocrisy that signs in Banff state it’s illegal to feed wildlife and yet these trains are doing just that, like a giant cafeteria conveyor belt. Expecting others to act responsible while allowing this to occur is a perfect example of do as I say and not as I do.
While it is simplistic to say that all the train mortalities are caused either directly or indirectly from the grain, one has to accept the fact that even if grain or other food attractants aren’t present at the time of the event, animals will still travel the tracks looking for the free handouts whether they are there or not. After all, this has become a learned behaviour passed down from generation to generation. They have been condition from the time they are old enough to walk or fly that the tracks offer a steady supply of food so one cannot truthfully state that a particular train mortality wasn’t associated with grain or a carcass simply because these attractants weren’t present at the time of death. This is misconstruing the root of the problem. It will take years of continuous negative feedbacks for animals to stop coming to the tracks to look for handouts. The reduction in spillage to current levels is a start but breaking this pattern will require no less than complete prevention of these spills and quick removal of any carcasses from the area. Only then will researchers be able to tease apart the other minor factors that might be at play.
In the grand scheme of things this is only one more human induced wildlife death in the long record of deaths that have happened in Banff and all along the tracks from Saskatchewan to Vancouver. However, it should serve as a prime example to every stakeholder that sooner than later added actions are required to address this problem and there is no better place to start than in Banff. Parks and CP rail should not simply state ongoing research will be used to investigate possible solutions. Short term solutions are required now while the longer term options are investigated. However, the buck doesn’t just stop with them. Instead of visitors just complaining about all the most recent deaths and demanding something be done, they too should take actions of their own. If you are a visitor to the park and are walking near the tracks, report any carcasses, grain spills or any other concerns to Parks by calling Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470 (24hrs/day). Even better if you can follow-up to make sure that the problem has been addressed and if it hasn’t, report it again. Every time a call is made a paper record is created that must be reviewed by Parks Canada management to make sure that the problem is taken care of. Other options include photographing what you see and forwarding it along or contacting Parks and CP staff directly with your concerns.
My hope is that this most recent death helps initiate more concerted efforts by everyone to actually solve this decades old problem. One can still hope can’t they?