Narrowing wildlife corridor could have broader consequences, conservationists say
A decades-long debate over the development of a major wildlife corridor in a community in the mountains of Alberta is expected to be back on the mountain town council next week.
Plans for two projects, which represent about 80 percent of the remaining usable land in Canmore, show that they could almost double the city’s population to almost 30,000 in the coming decades.
“This is the first plan that could be developed with the clear guidance of a council in Canmore,” said Chris Ollenberger, managing director at Quantum Place Developments, which is overseeing the proposed projects in Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek.
“These area structure plans are probably the best … across the Bow Valley for balanced and responsible development that is guided in a sustainable way, with climate goals … and respects wildlife.
Plans go before council on Feb. 9
Ollenberger said the plans, which will be submitted to the council on February 9, also address concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the tourist town near Banff National Park.
If the council gives the first reading of the plans next week, they will go to a public hearing in March.
Experts said they are concerned about the latest proposals for the eastern border of Canmore not yet resolving the concerns.
Adam Ford, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s Biodiversity Research Center, said the developments would increase pressure in an already busy valley.
“It’s death by 10,000 cuts,” said Ford, who suggested that the two plans need to be considered cumulatively.
Ford said one of the main problems is the wildlife corridor that runs through the city – a concern echoed by local experts.
“We know that this valley is of international importance from the Yellowstone region in the south to the Yukon in the north,” said Hilary Young of Yellowstone to Yukon, a conservation group based in Canmore.
“This small constriction across the Bow Valley, where it is already well developed, would be pushing the wildlife further up the slope and risking that they no longer move through the valley. It could totally block the movement of wildlife ”.
Wildlife corridor debated for decades
The wildlife corridor – and how wide it must be to allow animals, including grizzly bears, moose and wolves to move efficiently – has been debated for decades after a 1992 environmental assessment concluded that it is an important area.
In June 2018, Alberta Environment and Parks under an NDP government said the wildlife corridor would be too narrow under another Quantum proposal. It was reworked by the developer and approved by the United Conservative government at the beginning of last year.
“We appreciate the extensive work that has been done so far, based on the high quality of the work that (Alberta Environment and Parks) identified in the (previous) submission,” said a letter from the province on February 26, 2020.
“When considering the improvements that have occurred in Bow Valley over the past 25 years based on the protection of wildlife and habitat, there is reason to be optimistic about wildlife now and in the future.”
The approval came with recommendations, including the creation of a better habitat in the corridor, a detailed plan for the crossing structures and road fences and the company’s participation in efforts to reduce conflicts between people and wildlife.
Ollenberger said the developer has a plan to deal with these issues, but admits that the wildlife corridor is a challenge.
“There is no book that everyone says is the way, and if you just do it, everything will be fine,” he said, noting that there are many variables to take into account.
He said safeguards, including a fence around the developments and a new wildlife pass that would allow animals to pass under the Trans-Canada Highway, would address concerns.
Character of the community
Ford, Young and local wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer said that would not be enough with so much development.
“It would change the character of our community,” said Heuer, who suggested that the projects would increase congestion and, as plans are now, would not fully address affordable housing for the city.
He and Young noted that the venture would cover the entire length of the Three Sisters’ land and leave little space for wildlife.
“Science about the wildlife movement has not changed since 2017, when they last submitted a proposal,” said Young. “It is still very clear that this narrowing of the corridor would have far wider consequences for the movement of wildlife through the valley.”