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Thursday, April 7, 2011

What can you do? Read 'The Will of the Land'

In the wake of last night's posting about the untimely death of Meadow, the young Banff wolf killed on the railway tracks on March 7, 2011, I have received a deluge of personal emails, blog comments, and Facebook fan page comments asking, simply, "What can we do?" to put some pressure on Parks Canada and the Canadian Pacific Railway to address the situation in a meaningful manner.

So what can we do?  In his gorgeous new book, The Will of the Land, fellow Canmore wildlife and nature photographer Peter A. Dettling tackles this issue head-on.  Peter's book is a revelation to the idea that Banff National Park is supposed to protect its wild inhabitants, not cater to the whims of corporate greed.

The Will of the Land is one of the most important books to come out regarding conservation in Canada in years.  That it focuses on my (and Peter's) mountain backyard and features some of the most breath-taking wildlife photography you will ever see is an added bonus to the must-read text for anyone that cares about the state of Canada's national parks, and in particular, Banff National Park.

The Will of the Land by Peter Dettling, Rocky Mountain Books, October 2010

In the book, Peter chronicles many of the relationships he developed from years in the field in Banff working on this project.  While many of you may have seen Peter's name from time to time in national publications and magazines, much of the reason his work has not been seen as much as other equally-talented wildlife photographers is because of the incredible amount of time he spent ignoring the call of his desk and office to search for and photograph many of the subjects of this book, like the Bows (the Bow Valley wolf family), Jolie (a Banff grizzly), and others.

Jolie and a mate © Peter Dettling

I have mentioned in previous articles and posts about the time I spent photographing the Bows in 2007 -- a total of 47 days in the field in order to get 4 good photo days/opportunities with the wolves.  Yet that considerable effort pales in comparison to the amount of time Peter spent in the field in Banff in 2007: over 250 days.

The dedication Peter showed on this project clearly shines through in The Will of the Land. The first 100 pages entrance the reader, leading one along a journey with Peter to visit the personal connections he has made with the animals he's photographed and spent so much time with.  The stories are fascinating, the photographs equally as captivating. But then the book takes a decided and purposeful twist, bringing to the forefront the hard questions that need to be asked and exposing the worst of the ecological problems that Banff National Park faces.

Trains race through Banff National Park, creating a death zone for wildlife © Peter Dettling

The book takes a rare look into the "realities of nature's growing struggle against developing tourism, ill-conceived transportation routes and questionable wildlife management practices."  And importantly, in doing so, Peter does not sugarcoat the truth with a collection of pretty pictures surrounding the tragic and often harsh words.  Rather, he exposes the worst of the park for all to see in graphic, vivid photos of his closest wild friends, the wolves of the Bow Valley family, after their deaths.

The Bows no longer exist in Banff National Park.  Delinda, Nanuk, Chinook, Ranger, Lakota, Fluffy, White Fang, Silvertip, and Sundance no longer walk the Bow Valley.  The same goes for Field, Blondie, #16, #66, and so many more grizzly bears, all that have died at the hands of man.

© Peter Dettling

Peter's book comes at a time when it is needed most.  Many Canadians, like myself, are extremely disgruntled with how our Parks are being managed and protected.  I am fortunate enough to have a voice with Parks Canada occasionally, to be on committees and boards, or to provide input to research projects.  However, I've become disillusioned with this as well, not sure that it's helping at all.  So in the face of this comes The Will of the Land, Peter's own impassioned cry for help with something even better: a vision for the future of Canada's most famous national park and a way that you can help make that vision a reality.

If this has touched a nerve with you at all, then I urge you to pick up Peter's book from a local bookstore (Cafe Books in Canmore, the Viewpoint in Banff, or any Chapters, Coles, or Indigo location across Canada) or order it directly online from Canada or the United States (Amazon).  It is a book that could change the way we view our national parks forever, and I'm proud of my friend and colleague for having the faith and perseverance to bring this significant project to fruition.

For more about Peter Dettling's photography and projects, please visit his website at  For more about the book, please visit


  1. Thanks for letting us know about this wonderful book John. Kudos to you and Peter for all you do to let the world know what's going on here and to try and educate us all. I for sure will be picking up a copy of Peter's book.

  2. I ordered this book and read it after you mentioned him here on your website. It is one of the best ever combination of words, emotion and photography I've come across. I cried at the end for all the lost members of the wolf and grizzly families plus the hundreds of other wildlife casualties he mentions. It is so hard for me to believe that the Canadian people can allow such a massacre without demanding change from their park service and government.
    Fain Zimmerman

  3. I am right with you on this, don't know
    why Parks canada does not take a more proactive stand on wildlife in the parks and their safety. I already purchased Will of the Land, I just finished reading john Hydes book on Romeo the story of an alaskan wolf and he too met his demise at the hands of a wolf hater who thought the best wolf is a dead wolf, even though this wolf played with dogs and never once attacked either an human or someones pet ... what can we do to protect our wildlife in the parks. I have driven thru Banff and the posted speed limits are ignored constantly by people speeding to get who knows where in record time...I am getting so frustrated at reading about a wolf or bear being killed by trains and cars we are in their territory lets slow down and respect them and what they stand for..

  4. Since 1998 we (world park foto) have written many times to Parks Canada and Governments about the dreadful wildlife mortality in Parks and Western Canada.

    We gave solutions - educate people "give 2 toots for wildlife" to use car horn to warn animals near roads that you are approaching. Sound travel 300m/s a car travels 25m/s so animals have warning time to react before you get to where they are.

    Another techno innovation - animals in migration corridors that cross roads interrupt an alarm laser light beam that is linked to solar powered flashing light road signs. this has been implemented successfully at radium bc thanks to the friends of kootenay especially retired member jeff of misty river lodge.

    We advocate the greater use of solar powered speed radar detectors linked to warning lights to remind people to slow down (and a km later give them a photo radar speeding ticket if they do not). I guess the worst speeding offenders are from Alberta/BC as these are perceived as "their parks" and becomes an extension of their driving habits in the city or where-ever they live. Classic example is the highway of death in Kootenay park as weekenders rush from Calgary to their destination in BC Rockies.

    The RCMP have responded quickly and admirably to our letters, yet they cannot be everywhere to catch excessive speeders. Governments need to implement more extensive high tech solutions that would remind people to slow down and to educate the public about the value of simply honking their horn when they see wildlife that may get in their way.

  5. Railroads should use high tech detection such as infra-red sensors that trigger train warning horn and ultrasonic/infrasonic sounds to scare away animals. Maybe low velocity rubber bullets should be launched to get the animal off the track. More importantly, train speeds should be much more carefully monitored by Parks Canada with mobile sensors to ensure train speeds do not go above safe limits - which should be limited to 60km/hr in parks and within 20km of parks boundaries. Yet animals outside parks should not be any less precious, so the technology of wildlife warning systems need to be implemented 24x7 anywhere any railway operates. Railway earn billions of dollars in profits but have been slow to apply techno innovations simply because the governments (we the people) do not make them.

    ironically friends of kotenay stopped selling our cards for being too vocal about their other stupid spending for a $70,000 map room vs more and better wildlife protection signs. instead of better wildlife protection signs, friends of yoho blew $30,000 on a scale model of the spiral train tunnel which railroads should have paid for. friends of banff and jasper may have similar foolish spending skeletons in their closet because they all rely on money from government to fund their efforts and have to do whatever parks canada says. even wardens are handcuffed by govt - a few years ago Jasper wardens responded quickly to our letter about the need for a mountain goat warning sign along the roadside mineral lick about 5km south of athabasca falls. A few years later the signs are now gone, but the mountain goats are still there as they have been for many years and will continue to be. Similarly the endangered caribou crossing signs are now warngins without lower speed limits - simply to enable tour buses and motorists get to their destination faster.

    We can blame motorists, but the truth is broader - habitat loss due to massive logging quietly goes around the perimeters of parks. Hunters gather every year at the borders where there is no buffer zone to protect wildlife. Kootenay plains east of Saskatchewan Crossing on Hwy 11 used to be part of the jasper-banff parks but is now unprotected to allow hunting in a region where animals have migrated for thousand of years to mate and find food in the winter.

    So we urge you to get involved and write Govt of Canada (and your home country too) to implement more and better solutions to protect wildlife everywhere.

    Peter Dettling has done a good job putting together an important book, and it is ironic that it has taken someone who has immigrated to Canada. Yet let us not forget that many other people have written other excellent books and photos on the subject - George Brybicin of Calgary, James Pissot of Wildlife Defenders formerly of Canmore, Wolf Awareness Inc formerly of Canmore - and yes, the many fabulous people of Friends of Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, Banff, Revelstoke, Waterton, Alberta Wilderness Assn, BC Wildlife Assn, Western Wilderness Committee, and so on. So thanks James and Peter for joining us to help try to make the parks a better place for wildlife to live a full, complete life - and for us to enjoy seeing them alive and well. cheers, dan & therese onischuk, world park foto, edmonton