As the days continue to get shorter and the nights get longer, Elk Island National Park is hoping visitors use extra caution while travelling through the park.
Less daylight means an increased potential in animal collision in the Park just 20 minutes east of Sherwood Park. In 2019, there were 13 vehicles collided with wildlife. With increased public awareness, Parks staff hopes this number trends down for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.
“While the number of these types of incidents in the park does vary from year to year, the overall goal is to reduce wildlife collisions,” Janelle Verbruggen, communications officer at Elk Island National Park. “Colliding with an animal in a vehicle can lead to serious injuries and visitors driving to the park are encouraged to be extra diligent in the fall and winter when reduced daylight increases the risk of a collision…. We’re looking for visitors to be extra diligent this time of the year. Wildlife that is comfortable around both people and roadsides are at a greater risk of being struck by a vehicle.”
The park’s iconic bison can be especially hard to see on the roads.
“Bison are notorious for being hard to see in low light and no light conditions, if you don’t get your headlight reflected off of their eye there is actually no other reflective surface on their body and they are dark, dark brown,” she said. “It is very difficult to see them and they often linger on roadways.”
Drivers should also watch out for joggers and cyclists, who are often using the roads and trails in the park year-round.
Verbruggen noted Parks Canada works really hard to educate visitors about appropriate behaviour so that disruptions to wildlife are minimized and we focus on educating the public, making sure individuals follow the rules and regulations.
If you get in a collision with wildlife at the park or spot wildlife that has been in a collision on the side of the road, you should contact park staff immediately. You can report incidents to the Parks Canada dispatch at 1-877-852-3100.
“Fall and winter are stunning times in the park to view both the landscape and the wildlife, but while driving through the park is one of the easiest ways to spot wildlife, especially bison who are quite comfortable by the roadside, shorter days with reduced sunlight really does increase the risk of a wildlife collision,” explained Verbruggen. “Stay alert, especially at night, slow down or stop somewhere safe if you see any wildlife on the road and wait for them to pass and make sure you’re obeying the posted speed limits.”
EINP is a popular destination for visitors in the winter who want to check out the winter landscape or come by when the sun sets to get a good view of the stars.
“As part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, Elk Island National Park is a great place to come at night, especially earlier in the evening with younger children when we do have darker skies, and in the winter there is a greater chance to see an aurora,” she said. “There is a great appeal for night-time visits at Elk Island but that does increase the risk of a wildlife collision. We’d really like visitors to plan ahead and make sure they are fully prepared before they come for their trip.”
For information about driving and park safety, go to pc.gc.ca.ca/elkisland.