Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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Adam Ford: Turning Research into Action

Working closely with Y2Y and others, wildlife researcher Adam Ford is developing innovative ways to keep animals connected along corridors and across highways.

We all know that corridors are essential for healthy wildlife populations, and that highway crossing structures make our roadways safer for both animals and people. But what makes an effective wildlife corridor? And how can we use that knowledge to build better crossing structures?

Those questions and many, many more are behind the research of Adam Ford, a Calgary-based wildlife biologist who’s taking a closer at corridors and crossing structures in the Canadian Rockies, specifically a wildlife-rich stretch along the Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta that runs through Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.

The region is home to large numbers of wolves, elk, bears, cougars and a range of other wildlife species that regularly traverse the area’s low-elevation valleys, near the highway and often right through towns and backyards. Maintaining wildlife corridors is an ongoing concern here, and top-of-mind for the region’s development proposals.

The four-lane Trans-Canada Highway cuts through the heart of Alberta's Banff National Park. Photo: Tony Clevenger.

After completing a PhD on African carnivores in 2014, Ford received a Liber Ero Fellowship Award to support his ongoing research, which will surely increase our understanding of effective corridors and wildlife crossings in the Yellowstone to Yukon region, and will also have practical applications by helping planners determine where developments would have less impact on wildlife connectivity.

“We don’t need to be afraid of what science tells us,” says Ford, who argues there is not often enough communication between developers and scientists when it comes to land-use planning. “Using strong science will ultimately help planners make better decisions. It’s that simple.”

Conducting his research in the Bow Valley, Ford has gained an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of wildlife movement in a landscape that has a little of everything—intact parks and protected areas mixed with human communities, a four-lane highway, plus millions of annual visitors descending upon one of the country’s premier tourist destinations.

Checking remote wildlife cameras in the field. Photo: Adam Ford.

Over the course of his research, for example, he’s learned that crossing structures are not prey traps—meaning predators don’t use them to corral their prey, as some biologists had initially feared. And, as one might expect, female grizzly bears with young are more selective in their use of crossing structures than males.

However, when it comes to both wildlife corridors and highways crossings, one size does not fit all. “We need to understand that people’s effect on wildlife is often species specific,” says Ford, adding that what we conclude for one species in the Bow Valley may not necessarily apply in another region.

"The exciting part of my work is understanding what makes the Bow Valley either special or similar to other areas in the world," says Ford. "This is a huge knowledge gap, and one of the reasons why scientists like us need to do a better job of reaching out to the community.”

Ford tracking impala in Kenya on a ranch where human-wildlife co-existence is a major driver for management. Photo: Adam Ford.
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