A study out of Montana is highlighting the effectiveness of Banff’s wildlife crossings and shows that the structures are helping to maintain a genetically healthy bear population on both sides of the Trans-Canada highway.

The genetics study is the first of its kind and was conducted by scientists with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.

In 2006, Ecologist Mike Sawaya started a three-year research project to study the effectiveness of the crossings and his latest paper, published in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B”, suggests the bears are crossing over the highway for more than just berries.

"We found enough movement and migration across the highway to infer that, yes, the crossing structures are allowing the transfer of genes," said Sawaya.

Researchers analyzed DNA from about 10,000 black bear and grizzly bear hair samples, which were collected from wire snares located near the crossings, to see if the highway was isolating bears on either side.

The results of the analysis concluded that the busy roadway does not isolate bears and that the bears are using the wildlife crossings to find food sources and also connect with mates.

"The grizzly bear population was fragmented and we're starting to see it be restored," said Sawaya. "If the crossings continue to work the way they are, I think we're going to see the dissolution of that genetic structure over time."

Parentage tests showed that 47 percent of black bears and 27 percent of grizzly bears that used the crossings had successfully bred.

There are currently 44 crossings in the area and they make up one of the most extensive wildlife crossing systems in the world.

To read more on the research and findings, click HERE.

(With files from ctvnews.ca)