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050 New frontiers for wildlife crossings, and the scourge of scurvy

In this episode, I talk about some new science surrounding Wildlife Crossing structures across the mountain west. I also look at the history of scurvy and how it impacted Canada’s Early Explorers.

Welcome to Episode 50 of the Mountain Nature and Culture Podcast. I’m your host, Ward Cameron and I’m recording this on November 25, 2017. I can’t believe this is actually episode 50. When I started this project almost a year and a half ago, I’m not sure I believed I would actually ever get 50 shows recorded. To date, you can enjoy more than 150 different stories across all 50 shows.

All I could do was focus on the next episode. Each new episode triggered a new round of research, reading, scripting, recording, editing, and uploading. For me, it’s been about the process. Those of you that know me, know that I will always talk about finding the story in the science.
Stories are everything to me and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by an endless number of very talented scientists, historians, park managers, conservation officers, and other lovers of the mountain west.

Stories help us to learn, understand, and care for the amazing landscape and culture that surrounds us.

Before I started this project, I considered myself a naturalist and guide, and never really got involved in controversial issues. When I really began to do the research though, there were many things that simply needed to be called out.

Some of these included:

  • ill-advised bike trails in Canmore and Jasper National Park
  • free park passes in National Parks already bursting at the seams
  • the loss of Bear 148 in Canmore due to flagrant violations of bear closures
  • and Canmore’s wildlife corridor challenges.

At the same time, I was amazed by some of the incredible science that is taking place that sheds new light on our landscape and the plants and animals that call it home. A few highlights include:

  • amazing research on Columbian ground squirrels taking place in Kananaskis Country
  • revelations on the importance of gravel river ecosystems
  • a new climate change research centre in Canmore
  • the reintroduction of bison after 130 years in Banff National Park
  • new discoveries on dinosaurs across parts of Alberta and British Columbia
  • the dismantling of the concept of an “ice-free corridor” migration to the new world for our earliest indigenous ancestors
  • a study showing grizzlies will choose berries over salmon if given the opportunity
  • New insights into ancient Neanderthal medicine and most recently,
  • A study showing that cougars are not as solitary as scientists once thought.

I’ve also had the opportunity to share a number of historical stories as well including:

  • The story of outfitter and guide Bill Peyto who’s image graced the town entrance for years
  • The story of the search and discovery of the lost Franklin Expedition ships
  • The history of snowshoeing
  • The story of the man behind Waterton Lakes National Park’s name
  • The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, including the stories of surveyors Walter Moberly and A.B. Rogers, and railroad chief William Cornelius Van Horne.
  • The trials and tribulations of gold seekers during the Caribou gold rush and in this episode
  • The history of scurvy and its impact on Canadian exploration.

I’m going to keep looking for new discoveries to keep you up to date on all of the great stories behind the scenery. I hope you’ll be with me to celebrate 100 episodes in another year or so.

What stories would you like to hear? You can send your suggestions by visiting the show page at www.MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep050 and enter your suggestion in the comment field at the bottom of the show notes. I love hearing from listeners and this is your opportunity to influence the direction of future episodes.

Thanks for being a part of the story

New Directions for Wildlife Crossing Structures

Back in episode 34, I talked about the great success that Banff National Park has had with its highway mitigation program of wildlife fences, over and underpasses, and highway twinning. The park has pioneered the use of these structures to both reduce the number of animals being killed along our highways while also improving connectivity across the Bow River valley.

If you’d like to check out that episode, you can hear it at MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep034.

I also mentioned that new designs were being investigated to help the program evolve as it expands to new locations across North America. A design contest was held by Arc Solutions and it invited companies to submit new designs using a wide diversity of materials and construction methods.

As more and more destinations adopt similar methods of protecting connectivity and wildlife, it’s important that the structures evolve to fit the location, the species being protected, and in some cases, the available budget.

We need to avoid looking at a wildlife overpass as if it was a bridge. While they are both structures designed to span some form of crossing, the similarities end there.

Bridges are usually narrower and usually much longer. This means they need to be engineered in a very different way. Wildlife overpasses are usually wider and span much shorter distances, such as a few lanes of highway.

The more squat design of wildlife overpasses provides more opportunities to alter the design to solve unique challenges. Since they don’t have to be over-engineered like a long span bridge, they can incorporate more innovative designs and use lighter materials.
In addition to the ability to vary the materials, they could also use more flexible or modular components.

While Banff gets a lot of credit for its extensive work on expanding the use of connecting structures in North America, the first wildlife overpass was built in France in the 1950s. A number of European countries have followed that lead, in particular, the Netherlands, where they have more than 600 crossing structures.

They also boast the longest overpass, the Natuurbrug Zanderij Crailo, which spans 800 metres and crosses a canal, a highway, and a rail line. In Europe, wildlife overpasses are generally referred to as Ecoducts.
The goal for the future is to avoid one-size fits all solutions and to be able to take better advantage of material design and landscape contours.

New highways and upgrades to older roads with a history of animal-vehicle impacts are all candidates for considering connectivity as a key component of the planning process. According to Arc Solutions, crossing structures should be:

  • “considered as early as possible in the transportation planning process so as to avoid the more costly problem of retrofitting or rebuilding;
  • cost-effective in terms of materials, construction and maintenance;
  • ecologically responsive to current and anticipated conditions;
  • safe for humans and wildlife alike;
  • flexible or modular for possible use in other locations;
  • adaptive, to facilitate mobility of wildlife under dynamic ecosystem conditions;
  • sustainable in terms of materials and energy use, and responsive to climate change;
  • educational, revelatory and communicative to the public; and
  • beautiful, engaging and remarkable.”

One of the other benefits of the crossing structures in Banff National Park has been their ability to continue to teach us about how wildlife use the landscape. By constant monitoring of their usage over decades, we begin to understand our wildlife populations, and in some cases, how individual animals move through their territory.

Banff is also unique in its focus on making sure the structures are also effective for large carnivores. While elk and deer were quick to adapt to the underpasses, it took years for our more wary carnivores to begin to regularly use them.

It was largely for this reason that the decision was made to build the first two overpasses when Banff began its second phase of highway twinning in 1996.

In order to spur innovation in overpass construction, Arc Solutions sponsored a design competition in 2010. It brought together landscape architects, engineers, ecologists and an array of other professionals to focus on new ideas on how to improve connectivity across landscapes.
The goal was to design a structure in Colorado’s West Vail Pass along I-70. The competition spurred designers to look beyond a simple function only focus and to try to push the envelope to create something entirely new.

The competition attracted more than 100 firms on 36 teams. The judges narrowed down the entries to 5 finalists.

The teams created some incredibly beautiful, yet innovative designs that were functional in achieving the goals of wildlife connectivity.
There was a wide variety of materials used, varying from laminate timber, steel, glass-reinforced plastic, and wood-core fiberglass, amongst others.

They all took modularity into account in order to create scalable designs that can vary with the landscape and either be extended or have components that can snap together.

Also critical is how they all incorporate real-time opportunities for monitoring for both research and educational purposes. Cameras integrated into the structures can connect with phone apps, websites, schools, or kiosks.

Unfortunately, the winning design has yet to be built on West Vail Pass. The wildlife still dies in large numbers on the pass. Unfortunately, this section of highway has the reputation for killing every species of wildlife in Colorado save three. Whitetail deer, elk, grizzly and black bear, bighorn sheep, wolf, and even wolverine are regularly lost. Locally, it’s referred to as the “Berlin Wall” for wildlife.

Hopefully, like Banff, funds can be found to build this and many more structures across the mountain west in Canada and the U.S.

Vail Pass may be called the “Berlin Wall” today, but just 30 years ago the Trans Canada between Banff and Lake Louise was referred to as the “meat grinder” for the same reason. Today it’s a source of inspiration for destinations across North America dealing with challenges of animal impacts and connectivity.

Hopefully, new designs help to reduce the costs associated with building more and more crossing structures.

In a related story, a recent study has found that female grizzlies with cubs have a definite preference for wildlife overpasses as opposed to underpasses when crossing the Trans-Canada Highway through Banff.

The study showed that while male grizzlies seem to use both kinds of structures, females with cubs have a definite preference. Investigators looked at 17 years of crossing data over 5 of the 44 structures within Banff National Park. All of the bears preferred the more open structures like open-span bridges and overpasses as opposed to the more narrow box culverts and tunnels. Males would use the more confined structures but definitely preferred a bit more space.

Despite their preference for open structures, males still made many crossings on the box culvert-style underpasses. It may be possible to create crossings focused on male bears which would help reduce the likelihood of females with cubs encountering males while using the crossings.

In Canmore, a long underutilized underpass at Stewart Creek is seeing some renewed interest by both grizzly bears and wolves. This underpass is on one of the previously approved wildlife corridors in Canmore. While the corridor is used by a variety of animals, the underpass under the Trans-Canada Highway has not seen a great deal of wildlife traffic.

Part of this may be the high level of human use in the corridor, with many of those people being accompanied by off-leash dogs.

In recent months though, wildlife cameras have revealed a significant uptick in wolves and bears crossing through the underpass. In the period between Sept 24 and Nov 23, there were 8 wolf crossings – the first evidence of wolves using the underpass in the 20 years since it was first built.

2017 has also seen 8 separate crossings by grizzly bears so far as compared to 22 crossings in total since 2009. This year represents 36% of the total crossings in that timeframe.

New wildlife overpass being built west of Lake Louise along the Trans Canada Highway.

Banff also saw a slow adoption of underpasses by carnivores when they were first built, but in time, they became comfortable traversing them.

Of the 8 wolf crossings, several were repeat visitors. It’s believed that there are at least 3 wolves that have been counted more than once. In particular, collared wolf 1501, the former alpha male of the now disbanded Bow Valley Wolf Pack.

With repeated use, the underpasses can become a typical part of their natural travel patterns. In Banff, the historic movement of wildlife determined the location of the 44 over and underpasses built through the park. In Canmore, the wildlife corridors are being designed by people and not the by the animals that have traversed the valley for centuries.

We build house after house in the traditional movement corridors and then pull out crayons on a map and say “let’s put the corridor here!”. Animals don’t read maps. They read landscapes.

In Banff, the crossing zones are often terrain traps, places where habitat and landscape naturally funnel animals to potential highway crossings. Years of winter track surveys of carnivores helped park managers to locate the most important crossing areas for wildlife. They didn’t try to force them to go anywhere, rather they let the animals tell them where they wanted to cross.

Wildlife corridors and the crossing structures associated with them are critical to the long-term success of the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. Canmore still has a lot of battles to help ensure the safety of the corridors within its town boundaries.

An uptick in use at one underpass does not signal a win for what companies like Three Sisters and Silvertip would like the community to think is due to their efforts. We all need to keep the pressure on to make sure that Canmore doesn’t turn into a cul-de-sac in the greater north-south movement corridors for wildlife.

Let’s celebrate the increased interest by some of our iconic animals, while continuing to push to make sure that it is a trend and not an anomaly.

Scurvy through the Ages

In the 21st century, it seems almost inconceivable that someone could contract scurvy, a debilitating disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. With today’s modern medicine, scurvy seems to have joined diseases like polio and smallpox in the dustbin of history.
That being said, a story in the Canadian Press dated June 9, 2016, talked about an abused teen in Calgary that was likely suffering from scurvy at the time of his death at the age of 15. It was a horrific story of abuse and shows that even ancient, almost forgotten diseases can reappear if basic nutritional needs are not met.

When we turn back the pages of time, scurvy really was one of the most devastating scourges affecting travelers throughout history.
It seems to strike people when they were far away from home, and correspondingly, away from good nutrition. The cause of scurvy was not proven until 1747 when a Scottish doctor named James Lind showed through a controlled experiment that the use of citrus fruits would cure the disease.

This could have, should have, ended the story of scurvy, but alas, history is often not so forgiving. The cause of scurvy has been repeatedly discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered time and time again over the ages.

Even the Greek Physician Hippocrates who died in 370 BCE talked about the disease, as did Egyptians more than 1,000 years earlier.
Move the clock forward to the 13th century and Crusaders were regularly plagued by scurvy. However, by 1497, Vasco de Gama’s crew were well aware of the benefits of citrus fruits.

Alas, had the Internet existed so long ago, maybe the local discoveries of cures might have been more widely known. The common denominator seemed to be soldiers, explorers, or mariners traveling far from their homes and lacking the fresh fruits and meats that would have been part of their normal diets.

The longer they relied on stored, preserved foods, the more likely that the symptoms of scurvy would strike them.
Even Canadian history is riddled with tales of scurvy. One of the earliest explorations in Canada was that of Jacques Cartier in 1535-36 (the same man responsible for giving Canada its name).

By November of 1535 Cartier’s crew, along with a large group of Iroquois were suffering terribly from the disease. By February, 50 of his 110 member party were beyond all hope of recovery and 8 had already died from the disease.
According to his journal, the disease:

“spread itselfe amongst us after the strangest sort that ever was eyther heard of or seene, insomuch as some did lose all their strength, and could not stand on their feete, then did their legges swel, their sinnowes shrinke as blacke as any cole. Others also had all their skins spotted with spots of blood of a purple colour: then did it ascend up to their ankels, knees, thighes, shoulders, armes and necke: their mouth became stincking, their gummes so rotten, that all the flesh did fall off, even to the rootes of teeth, which did also almost fall out”.

Jacques Cartier

The crew was losing hope, and it seemed that only prayer could help. Cartier had one of the recently deceased crew autopsied to see if a cause might be determined. His heart appeared rotten and when cut into, issued a great deal more rotten blood. His lungs were black. There was no answers in the autopsy, only more questions.

The crew continued to dwindle until only three healthy men were left on the ships. When all seemed lost, Cartier encountered a native by the name of Domagaia who:

“not passing ten or twelve dayes afore, had bene very sike with that disease, and had his knees swolne as bigge as a childe of two yeres old, all his sinews shrunke together, his teeth spoyled, his gummes rotten, and stinking. Our Captaine seeing him whole and sound, was therat marvelous glad, hoping to understand and know of him how he had healed himselfe…He answered, that he had taken the juice and sappe of the leaves of a certain Tree, and therewith had healed himselfe: For it is a singular remedy against that disease.”
Domagaia immediately:

“sent two women to fetch some of it, which brought ten or twelve branches of it, and therewithall shewed the way how to use it… to take the barke and leaves of the sayd tree, and boile them togither, then to drinke of the sayd decoction every other day, and to put the dregs of it upon his legs that is sicke: moreover, they told us, that the vertue of that tree was, to heale any other disease: the tree in their language called Ameda or Hanneda…”

“The Captain at once ordered a drink to be prepared for the sick men but none of them would taste it. At length one or two thought they would risk a trial. As soon as they had drunk it they felt better, which must clearly be ascribed to miraculous causes; for after drinking it two or three times they recovered health and strength and were cured of all the diseases they had ever had. And some of the sailors who had been suffering for five or six years from the French pox [syphilis] were by this medicine cured completely. When this became known, there was such a press for the medicine that they almost killed each other to have it first; so that in less than eight days a whole tree as large and as tall as any I ever saw was used up, and produced such a result that had all the doctors of Louvain and Montpellier been there, with all the drugs of Alexandria, they could not have done so much in a year as did this tree in eight days; for it benefitted us so much that all who were willing to use it recovered health and strength, thanks be to God.”

Other translations refer to the tree as Annedda. Unfortunately, Cartier did not list a careful description or proper name of the tree in his Journal. More recent research suggests that it might be the eastern white cedar, white spruce, or the white pine. All are very high in vitamin C and can make a rejuvenating tea for those suffering from scurvy.

The lack of a proper identification meant that scurvy would continue to plague future explorers.

In 1609, Marc Lescarbot’s History of New France talks about another expedition:

“Briefly, the unknown sicknesses like to those described unto us by James Cartier, in his relations assailed us. Fore remedies there was none to be found. In the meanwhile the poor sick creatures did languish, pining away by little and little, for want of sweet meats, as milk or spoon-meat for to sustain their stomachs, which could not receive the hard meats by reason of let proceeding from a rotten flesh, which grew and overabounded within their mouths; when one thought to root it out, it did grow again in one night’s space more abundantly than before. As for the tree called annedda, mentioned by the said Cartier, the savages of these lands know it not…
There died of the sickness 36 and 36 or 40 more that were stricken with it recovered themselves by the help of the spring”.

Samuel de Champlain

Soon after, the voyages of Samuel de Champlaine were also ravaged by the disease. In 1613 he wrote:

“During the winter there was a certain sickness amongst several of our men, called sickness of the country, or scurvy…There died 35…We could not find any remedy to cure this sickness…

“We passed by a bay where there are a quantity of islands and saw large mountains in the west, where is the home of a savage captain called Aneda; which I think is near the Quinibequy River. I was persuaded by this name that here was one of the race who found the herb called Aneda, that Jacque Cartier said had so much power against the sickness called scurvy…which torments these men, savages as well as our own, when they arrive in Canada. The savages knew nothing about this herb, nor know what it is, even though their language contains the name.”

Had Cartier only taken a little more time to describe the plant so that future explorers could benefit from his good fortune at finding a cure.
It was 1747 when James Lind finally issued a cure in his publication A Treatise of Scurvy, where he described the cure. Unfortunately, the book attracted little attention. As a result, scurvy continued to kill.

During the Seven Years War which lasted from 1756 until 1763, the Royal Navy records showed 134,708 men listed as either missing or died from disease. Of that number, the vast majority succumbed to scurvy.

Scurvy continued to plague explorers as they expanded across Canada. Even during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In Pierre Burton’s book, The National Dream, he writes:

“No life was harsher than that suffered by members of the Canadian Pacific Survey crews and none was less rewarding, underpaid, overworked, exiled from their families, deprived of their mail, sleeping in slime and snowdrifts, suffering from sunstroke, frostbite, scurvy, fatigue and the tensions that always rise to the surface when weary dispirited men are thrown together for long periods of isolation, the surveyors kept on, year after year”

In one of my favourite books detailing the surveys of Walter Moberly’s party, one of his men, R.M. Rylatt kept a journal for his mother. It was published under the title Surveying the Canadian Pacific. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.

At one point Rylatt wrote:

“My mouth is in a dreadful state, the gums being black, the teeth loose, and when pressed against any substance they prick at the roots like needles. At times the gums swell, almost covering the teeth. To chew food is out of the question and so have to bolt it without mastication. My legs also becoming black below the knee…My breath is somewhat offensive and I am troubled with a dry cough. In fact I feel like an old man”

Rylatt was lucky. He survived the ordeal, but scurvy would continue to afflict other surveyors stranded for long periods in the wilderness with little access to modern medicines.

Ironically, Rylatt was also surrounded by a myriad of coniferous trees that would have solved his problems with just a simple tea. If only Cartier had been a little more clear with his journal descriptions.

In 1867, England’s Merchant Shipping Act required every ship in the British Navy to serve daily rations of lime juice. As news spread, the Brits became known by the ubiquitous term “Limeys”.

Today, scurvy still persists, in particular amongst impoverished nations and within homeless populations. It constantly amazes me how a simple vitamin deficiency was responsible for the deaths of so many thousands of people over the centuries…all for the want of a little vitamin C.

And with that, it’s time to wrap this episode up. As I begin to work towards the next 50 episodes, I’m happy to have you along on the journey.

For me, I’m always looking to find the stories in the science, the history and the culture. If you know a good story, drop me a line in the show notes at www.mountainnaturepodcast.com/ep050. You can also send me an email by using the contact page on the site.

If you’re looking for a snowshoe, hiking, step-on, or photography guide for your mountain adventure, look no further than Ward Cameron Enterprises. We have been sharing the stories behind the scenery for the past 35 years and would love to help you make the most of your mountain adventure.

If you’d like to connect personally, you can hit me up on Twitter @WardCameron. I’m excited to say, that’s a wrap for the first 50 episodes, and the Chinook has melted a lot of the snow from the mountain valleys so it’s time to go hiking. I’ll talk to you next week.

 

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