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One bear, one track - Date unknown Photographer unknown.
15 April 2017
Saving Bears from Trains
Isn't as Simple as it Seems


Banff Alberta - Re:  "Awakening Grizzlies May Find Life Isn't a Walk in the Park," Letter, 10 Apr 2017.
 
With the infamous "The Boss" back on the Banff landscape, many nature enthusiasts are frustrated by a perceived lack of action by Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and Parks Canada to prevent train strikes on grizzly bears.
 
Some insist that more must be done to remove the grain that is sometimes spilled on the tracks from hopper cars.
 
I agree that attractants should be managed proactively to protect wildlife, but I can't agree that nothing has been done, or that other actions are irrelevant.
 
A great deal has been done from my vantage as lead of the University of Alberta research project, one part of the collaborative grizzly bear conservation initiative of CP and Parks Canada.
 
In January, my team shared 12 aspects of our work in public presentations, each corresponding to a paper targeting the peer-reviewed, open-access, scientific literature.
 
Reviewing those results might cause others to suspect, as I do, that even if spilled grain could be eliminated completely, strikes would continue to occur.
 
This is because bears and other wildlife are attracted to many features on or near the rail, such as natural and introduced vegetation, other animals, adjacent human-use areas, and an easy travel route.
 
Rail use itself does not appear to predict mortality as "The Boss" himself illustrates (knock on wood).
 
These other variables might also explain why train strikes on bears are rare in some places where grain is hauled (Jasper), or common in areas where it is not (the Kootenays).
 
A disadvantage of targeting a single cause for any complex problem is that it polarizes opinion to inhibit the patient, open-minded co-operation that could advance more comprehensive solutions.
 
Co-operation and trust were essential to every part of our work.
 
Seed funding from CP created the research initiative with Parks Canada, which explicitly invited participation by university-based researchers, in turn supporting investment by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council.
 
Shared investment forced ongoing balance of pragmatic, public, and scientific ideals in our research, while gaining access to extensive expertise and operational support from dozens of employees at CP and Parks Canada.
 
I witnessed their consistent dedication to wildlife conservation in roles ranging from labourer to upper management, but I also saw the presence of diverse, and sometimes competing, responsibilities.
 
I invite readers to evaluate the products of this initiative for themselves and consider how co-operative research can integrate the silos of expertise and authority to address complex societal problems.
 
This model supports breakthrough solutions practically daily in human medicine.
 
Wildlife conservation is equally complex and will benefit from similar dedication to co-operation, peer-reviewed evaluation, evidence-based decisions, and adaptation to changing landscapes.
 
Best of all, this model increases generalization to other places where similar problems are larger, but resources for studying them are fewer.
 
Colleen Cassady St. Clair - Professor of biological sciences University of Alberta.

Quoted under the provisions in Section 29
of the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act.
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