Trail cameras in Crowsnest Pass tracking wildlife behaviour near Highway 3

A multi-year program in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass is looking to collect data to better assess wildlife patterns across Highway 3 for the safety of both animals and humans.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has partnered with the Miistakis Institute and the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute to gather data using high-tech cameras situated throughout the Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor.

Carys Richards, communications manager for the Alberta region of NCC, said the cameras work in all lighting situations for 24 hours a day and are triggered by movement.

“There’s this very important sliver of habitat that’s not protected but still has a ton of animals crossing,” said Richards. “It’s a wildlife corridor whether we do something about it or not; the animals are using this to cross.”

The first camera was placed in September 2020, with more cameras installed throughout the last year. The NCC isn’t disclosing the exact locations or quantities in an effort to avoid tampering.

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Artist rendering of possible wildlife crossing in Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor. Courtesy: Nature Conservancy of Canada

The goal of the cameras is to track animal behaviour along the highway to help researchers determine an appropriate course of action going forward.

“We’re going to provide (data) to the government of Alberta and help make suggestions about the best placement for potential wildlife crossing structures to make the Crowsnest Pass a safer place for both the people and animals that live in and travel through this region,” Richards explained.

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According to the Alberta Motor Association, animal-involved collisions are the second-leading cause of comprehensive damage claims to vehicles in the province, with an average claim expense of around $8,000.

This project looks to prevent those collisions.

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“You think about hitting a moose or a deer or something big like that, there’s a lot of human lives that are at risk in this area as well,” Richards said.

A cougar caught on camera in the Crowsnest Pass. Courtesy: Nature Conservancy of Canada

Tracy Lee, senior project manager with the Miistakis Institute, said it’s vital to have appropriate infrastructure such as underpasses and overpasses where needed to maintain wildlife connectivity.

“It’s really important that we don’t just prevent them from getting onto the highway (and) we actually have to help them get across,” Lee explained.

While official data analysis isn’t expected to occur until 2023, Lee said there is notable wildlife activity happening in the areas of interest. Researchers are planning to meet in October to develop an early summary.

“We certainly are seeing a large diversity of species you could expect to find down there on these cameras,” Lee said.

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Some of the species caught on camera include foxes, elk, deer, bighorn sheep and cougars. The images are collected and sifted through with the help of 17 volunteers.

“One of the (really neat) things about this project is the community support,” Richards said.

“Some of these cameras are on NCC conservation sites, but a lot of them are just on people’s private property that were willing to have these cameras installed and participate in the scientific research.”

Lee said this data will complement the work already being done by Alberta Transportation, which has mitigated two sites in the area by installing fencing to prevent bighorn sheep mortality near the Crowsnest Lake.

Alberta Transportation is in the process of designing an underpass, fencing and jump-outs near Rock Creek, Lee said.

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