2007 - The Year of Spending Dangerously! travel blog

On top of a wildlife crossing overpass

One of 22 underpasses

Moose Meadows - the moose are actually coming back!

Measuring shrubs

When the elk can't eat them.....

A cool but pretty fall day in the Park

Hole in the wall

We are volunteering with Parks Canada in Banff National Park as "Citizen Scientists". This is a new voluneer program and they are just figuring out exactly what it will look like but it sounded interesting so we committed to a year. So, what exactly does a citizen scientist do? Basically, we are there to help biologists and researchers who have research projects running in the park. We may help band harlequin ducks, monitor wildlife in the winter by tracing their tracks, monitor amphibians, do winter bird counts and whatever other projects come up. May not sound exciting to some people but it suits us well because we have both always been interested in biology and ecology. And we can be outdoors in the park hiking or skiing and doing something useful at the same time!

We've done quite a bit of recommended reading and have learned a bunch already. Also attended a one day training session where we met other volunteers, had a tour of the Warden's office and then were treated to a really interesting talk by one of the researchers who was born in Banff and has been working for Parks Canada for years. After the talk he took us on a field trip and first stop was one of the wildlife overpasses on the TransCanada highway. We were amazed! When you stand on top of the structure you would never know that you were over a major highway. You can't see the road and it feels like you're just in part of the forest. The researchers monitor the overpasses using "track pads" (sand traps) to capture tracks, barbed wire that catches fur for DNA analysis and motion activated cameras.

In addition to the 2 overpasses, there are 22 underpasses between the Banff E. gate and Castle junction with more being built as part of the Lake Louise highway twinning. The interesting part is that these crossing structures really work, they are heavily used. It took the carnivores longer to start using them than the ungulates that started before construction was even finished. Apparently grizzly bears, wolves, and ungulates prefer the overpasses and cougars and black bears prefer the underpasses (although all species will use either one). Interesting stuff! (at least for us).

We also went into the forest off the 1A and were introduced to a method used to monitor the healthiness of the shrubs by measuring their height. If you've noticed fenced in plots along that road, these are research plots that show how the shrubs and trees grow when the elk can't get at them. The elk population in the park was out of control for a while but thanks to some successful programs it is nearing "normal" levels and one way to track this is to track the growth of the shrubs that the elk like to eat. So we may end up out in the bush this fall measuring trees! Not everybodies cup of tea but fun for us to learn something knew and be useful at the same time.

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