Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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"I BELIEVE in connected landscapes; so connected that my children can walk from one point to another."
Chris Bunting, Y2Y Supporter since 2007

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Keeping Wildlife Connected

Roads are at the root of habitat fragmentation, so finding creative ways to get wildlife safely across them is essential.

Highways are one of the greatest obstacles to the Yellowstone to Yukon vision. They fragment landscapes, impede wildlife movement and lead to high rates of mortality due to collisions.

But with a mix of creativity, hard work and collaboration, Y2Y and partners are leading the way on innovative projects to maintain connectivity across major highways.

In Alberta’s Banff National Park, for example, Y2Y’s previous work with partners on crossing structures over and under the busy Trans-Canada Highway has reduced wildlife collisions by more than 90 percent. That successful model is now being replicated around the world, helping animals of all kinds—from grizzly bears and cougars to turtles and salamanders—cross roads every day.

Photo: Parks Canada.

To build on that success, Y2Y was part of ARC—“Animal Road Crossing”—a worldwide design competition to facilitate new innovations in wildlife crossing structures. Held in 2010, the ARC competition focused on reconnecting the North American landscape using less expensive but more effective designs. The global competition inspired several promising designs but so far none had taken the big step from model to construction site.

Until now, that is.

Plans are underway to build the first prototype along a section of the Trans-Canada Highway east of Canmore, Alberta, using the ARC competition’s winning design entry. The structure would complement an existing and very successful underpass near the community of Dead Man’s Flats.

That project follows on the heels of similar work to reduce wildlife collisions and improve connectivity across Canada’s HWY 3—another major east-west highway that impedes north-south wildlife movement as it cuts across the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

In Canada, an estimated four to eight vehicle collisions with large animals happen every hour. Photo: Kent Nelson.

HWY 3 bisects a highly important section north of the U.S.-Canada border; one that threatens to further fragment the landscape and prevent some struggling wildlife populations in the U.S. from connecting to healthier populations in Canada.

The Alberta government has approved funding for construction this fall of fencing, signage and a crossing zone for bighorn sheep at Crowsnest Lakes, on the east side of the Continental Divide, and progress has been made toward building an underpass at Rock Creek, near Lundbreck, Alberta.

Built in strategic zones where wildlife corridors are known to intersect major highways, these crossing structures will have a major influence on restoring and maintaining connectivity across the Yellowstone to Yukon landscape.

Perhaps most importantly, the cutting-edge designs that Y2Y and partners are developing today can be replicated on busy highways around the world—wherever animals are hindered from moving through ecosystems in search of food and mates.

This underpass on Montana’s Route 93 offers a much-needed alternative for getting wildlife across the road. Photo: CSKT, MDT and WTI-MSU.