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95% support better wildlife movement corridors in Bow Valley: Review

Respondents to public consultation on the future of wildlife movement corridors in the Bow Valley have clearly stated that they want a corridor around Canmore that is wider, flatter, and better for animals than what proponents of the Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) have put forward.

JUNE 15, 2017

Respondents to public consultation on the future of wildlife movement corridors in the Bow Valley have clearly stated that they want a corridor around Canmore that is wider, flatter, and better for animals than what proponents of the Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) have put forward.

This is according to a new analysis of written public feedback sent to Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) regarding the Smith Creek wildlife corridor proposed by TSMV. The public comment period lasted from early March until April 20, 2017, including an open house, public Q&A, and written feedback. All written submissions sent to the office of the South Saskatchewan Regional Director AEP, Roger Ramcharita, were posted publicly on the AEP website and analyzed by Y2Y. This is the first time that public feedback on the Smith Creek Corridor has been quantified.

According to Dr. Hilary Young, Alberta Program Manager for Y2Y, “The public feedback demonstrates a good knowledge of the issues. The overwhelming impression that comes from reading these letters is that people in the Bow Valley are well-informed and passionate about wildlife. They have a good sense of what science tells us wildlife need, and they don’t think this proposal meets those needs.”

Of the 408 unique written submissions, 95% (388) clearly stated concerns about the wildlife corridor proposed by TSMV and Quantum Place. Aspects generating the greatest public concern include the corridor’s width (explicitly mentioned in 55% of submissions) and steepness (50%), and the absence of a cumulative impact assessment of the Bow Valley’s many development proposals (42%). Conversely, only five submissions (1%) encouraged AEP to approve the corridor as it is proposed. (Details about the analysis at the end.)

This overwhelming public opposition to the proposed corridor is consistent with scientific contributions to the public feedback process, including:

1) A substantial scientific review for wildlife movement from researchers Drs. Adam Ford and Mark Hebblewhite recommending a thorough assessment of cumulative effects and a hold on new development approvals until such an assessment is complete. They argue that “the pace of development proposals and many of the questions these plans trigger by stakeholders, is proceeding faster than the speed at which science can provide answers. This discordance between evidence and decision is putting both wildlife and the local economy at risk.”

2) A 45-page review of relevant research prepared by Drs. Hilary Young and Jodi Hilty of Y2Y, detailing extensive scientific evidence that the proposed corridor is insufficient for wildlife. The Y2Y submission includes direct input from internationally renowned wildlife corridor ecologists, including Drs. Paul Beier, Nick Haddad, and Tony Clevenger.

“Our community has shown that they understand and appreciate how the Bow Valley connects wildlife populations in Banff and Kananaskis, with implications across the 3,200-km length of the Y2Y region, and they want the province to ensure animals are able to move as broadly as they need,” says Y2Y Program Director Stephen Legault.

Rooted in the 1992 NRCB decision regarding developments on Three Sisters property, AEP holds the statutory decision-making authority to approve or reject the landowner’s proposal for the provincially-mandated wildlife corridor. On April 26, AEP announced they required an additional four to eight weeks to make their decision. AEP is now expected to make a draft decision regarding the corridor proposal by the end of June. Those who wrote in during the public feedback process will have the opportunity to provide their responses to the draft decision before AEP makes its final decision. If AEP approves the corridor, then TSMV and Quantum Place may present their development plans outside the corridor to Canmore town council as an Area Structure Plan.

For further comment please contact:

• Stephen Legault, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Program Director for Crown, Alberta and Northwest Territories, 403-688-2964 | stephen@y2y.net
• Hilary Young, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Alberta Program Manager, 403-609-2666 ext. 104 | hilary@y2y.net

Details on analytical methods:

In Y2Y’s analysis, multiple letters supplied by the same person, or multiple people co-signing a single letter, were considered one submission. The 439 posted submissions therefore represented 408 unique submissions. The 388 submissions expressing concern with the proposed corridor each stated one or more of the following: 1) that the wildlife corridor must be wider and/or flatter than what is proposed, 2) that the decision should not be made without an assessment of the cumulative impacts from current and foreseeable development in the Bow Valley, 3) a direct statement that the proposal should be rejected, and/or 4) a variation of the phrase “I am writing to express my deep concern with the Smith Creek proposal.” If a letter contained non-specific support for wildlife but no explicit reference to the proposed corridor, it was not considered to support rejection or approval (i.e., it was not counted in the 388 submissions explicitly expressing concern). Therefore, even 95% is likely a conservative estimate of participants’ concern about how the proposed corridor might affect wildlife in and beyond the Bow Valley.