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Wildlife Expert Concerned About Development in Alberta's Bow Valley

Wildlife expert and Y2Y advisor Karsten Heuer leaves the multi-stakeholder group created to guide Three Sisters development near Canmore.

March 14, 2016

Canmore, AB – After close to a year acting as the sole conservation representative in a multi-stakeholder group determining the way forward for Three Sisters residential and commercial development near Canmore, Alberta, local wildlife corridor expert Karsten Heuer is stepping away from the table.

“It was meant to be a collaborative process,” says Heuer, referring to the Smith Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG), which was created to help the Town of Canmore and Quantum Place Developments (representatives of the Three Sisters land owners) hash out an Area Structure Plan for the large swath of undeveloped land between Stewart Creek and Deadman’s Flats. “But after eight months it’s been nothing more than a witnessing process. And I don’t like what I’m witnessing.”

Heuer is particularly disappointed with backsliding from the developer on plans for wildlife corridors that, in June 2015, would have only required minor improvements. “They’re now forwarding alignments that are worse, not better, for animals,” he says. “And their opening concept was a product of extensive conversations they’d had with the Government of Alberta, who is the ultimate authority and approver of these wildlife corridors.”

“We were hopeful this advisory group could finally crack the decades-old issue of establishing functional wildlife corridors across Three Sisters lands,” says Stephen Legault, Alberta Program Director for Canmore-based Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). “But the kinds of compromises we’re hearing about from Karsten aren’t consistent with the world-class wildlife connection needed between Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park.”

“Adding further barriers to wildlife movement in this important location would be a step backward,” says Y2Y President and Chief Scientist Jodi Hilty, who wrote Corridor Ecology, a 2012 book on maintaining connectivity between natural areas. “Decreasing wildlife connectivity across the Bow Valley not only affects animals in the valley but across the Y2Y region, the most intact mountain landscape in the world. Each time we add developments without taking wildlife movement into account, we chip away at this global heritage.”

According to published and unpublished research Heuer has presented to the CAG, wildlife corridors need to be at least 450 metres wide for wolves, grizzly bears and other species to move freely around human development. He’s also presented tens of thousands of GPS radio collar data points that show these corridors need to be on slopes below 25 degrees.

Heuer has spent most of his adult life working on behalf of wildlife, and designed and implemented the first studies of wildlife corridors in the Bow Valley in the 1990s. He went on to coauthor the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group’s award winning Wildlife Corridor and Habitat Patch Guidelines along with representatives of the Town of Canmore, the MD of Bighorn, and the Province of Alberta, and also walked 3,400 kilometres from Yellowstone to Yukon to explore the feasibility of an international system of reserves connected by wildlife corridors. He continues to serve as a Senior Advisor for Y2Y today.

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Media Contacts:

  • Karsten Heuer, Y2Y, Senior Advisor
    403-679-9334, karsteny2y@gmail.com 
  • Stephen Legault, Y2Y, Alberta Program Director
    403-688-2964, stephen@y2y.net 
  • Jodi Hilty, Y2Y, President and Chief Scientist
    403 678-1137, jodi@y2y.net