On February 28 we were among those community members shocked by a surprise approval of Canmore’s contentious Smith Creek wildlife corridor by Alberta Environment and Parks — one that contradicts their own previous decision.
In 2018, it was only after considerable review, a process that included meetings with wildlife experts, analysis of publicly available science and considerable public consultation, that Alberta Environment and Parks rejected a very similar proposal.
This decision, and the way it was made, is a shocking departure from how this issue has been handled previously. Like many land-use changes, transparency is important. This one, made completely behind closed doors, removes the public from the process.
There’s been no transparency, no scientific discussion, no public announcement from Alberta Environment and Parks. What’s more, this decision contradicts the government’s previous one on the issue.
This new corridor plan proposed for a development by Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) was approved on February 26 by Alberta Environment and Parks before being seen by the Town of Canmore, Canmore residents, or local wildlife experts.
We, and community members, want AEP to open this decision to public input with the scientific data behind the proposal documents taken out of the black box and made fully available for review.
Why getting this corridor right matters
The Bow Valley is a critical link in the chain of mountains that stretch from Yellowstone National Park to Yukon in the north, and the wrong decision on a corridor in the region has importance on a local and continental scale.
Keeping this link strong is a key part of maintaining the values that make Canmore and the Bow Valley special, a tourism destination and ecologically healthy.
Why we’re concerned
Besides the lack of public consultation and secret reversal of the previous decision, the plan itself is concerning.
Our wildlife ecologists and scientists are reviewing the available information and it appears the approved corridor could be worse for wildlife than the proposal that the Alberta Government rejected in 2018.
- It’s smaller in size: The approved corridor covers a smaller area (166 hectares) than the one rejected (174.66 ha) despite widening the corridor in a few places — though not to the extent the Alberta government demanded in the 2018 decision.
- It’s not as wide: The 2018 decision required that the wildlife corridor adjacent to Thunderstone Quarry be widened by at least 50-100m, while the approved corridor expands that area by only 25-39m. The 2018 decision also required TSMV to widen the across-valley corridor between development areas to at least 400m, a standard that has been met in the new proposal. These small expansions, however, are offset by narrower corridor width — meaning more land opened to development — in other locations.
- It will affect wildlife movement: In the 2018 decision Alberta Environment and Parks states a need to “ensure that all animals that try to use the proposed corridor can do so unimpeded”, while the 2020 approval letter accepts steep slopes on the basis that such slopes “do not represent a total barrier to wildlife movement.” A 2015 review of local wildlife tracking data by Dr. Adam Ford indicates that most large wildlife species living in that area spend 95% of their time on slopes flatter than 20 degrees.
The community cares about this issue
In April 2018, Alberta Environment and Parks rejected a very similar proposal from TSMV. During that decision-making process, one that took many months, the provincial government made proposal documents publicly available online, listened to feedback at two open houses in Canmore (one hosted by TSMV and one hosted by Y2Y), and shared more than 400 letters received from the public on the Government of Alberta website.
We analysed the 408 unique pieces of written feedback and found 95 per cent of respondents in 2018 had clear issues with the proposal while just 1.23 per cent — five people — approved of it.
How you can help
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