Y2Y is working to map future scenarios for grizzly bear movement in Alberta’s Bow Valley, using local plans and growth projections in human population, visitation, and activity.

Understanding wildlife movement in a busy landscape

The Bow Valley is one of the four most important east-west connectors in the entire 3,200-kilometer-long (2,100 mile) length of the Yellowstone to Yukon region, and one of two such valleys in Alberta.

Since the 1970s, Canmore’s human footprint has grown more than five times. Changes to this and other Bow Valley communities could impact what makes them special. That includes wildlife corridors, grizzly bear movement, or other indicators that align with local planning priorities such as traffic congestion and parking, housing availability, and commitments to address climate change.

Through this work, Y2Y aims to provide planners and decision-makers with information and a clearer view of how to achieve their goals and priorities and what trade-offs might need to be made to get there. The area of focus will run along the Bow Valley from Castle Junction to the Kananaskis River.

The Bow Valley faces many landscape pressures such as the Trans-Canada and 1A highways, the Canadian Pacific Railway, mining and industrial operations, and towns along the Bow River, including Banff, Canmore, and Exshaw. Other pressures include expanding outdoor recreation and tourist growth. Photo: Adam Linnard

What is the cumulative effects approach?

Cumulative effects are the impact diverse activities over time have on a specific area. Rather than attempting to look at the impact of a single decision on a very localized area, a cumulative effects approach attempts to understand the ways that many different decisions together impact the broader landscape and how it functions.

The busy, developed landscape of the Bow Valley is one of the few in the world that people and grizzly bears still share. With many pressures on this rather narrow landscape, every planning decision must be made with an understanding of overall cumulative effects, otherwise we risk losing a significant part of what makes this area so special in the first place: the wild animals that have always been here.

What impact do today’s decisions have on people and wildlife in the future?

Y2Y is working with an interdisciplinary team of scientists and software developers, ALCES Landscape and Land-Use, to map out potential futures for the Bow Valley.

The focus of this work is on grizzly bears, both for their own sake and because, as an umbrella species, meeting the needs of grizzly bears means meeting the needs of many other species as well.

At the same time, we want to provide an opportunity for local jurisdictions to inform the model with the best available data and potential plans while also measuring indicators, such as traffic or housing needs, that reflect their own priorities.  

Following the model of the Human Wildlife Coexistence roundtable, we are working to establish an advisory group of the valley’s jurisdictional governments.

The ALCES Online model will be applied to simulate the cumulative effects of land use. This type of modelling is a knowledge-building exercise, producing data to inform planning processes and enhance decision-makers’ ability to achieve their long-term goals. It’s about understanding, as best we can, the impacts our decisions today could have on people and wildlife in the future.

The analysis will explore changes in land use footprints (e.g., roads, trails, settlements) and human activity over the past century as well as potential future land use scenarios associated with expected growth in human population and visitation.

Dynamic maps of connectivity through time will show historical and potential future changes in connectivity and risks to wildlife in the Bow Valley.

Who are we working with?

  • ALCES Group
  • We will continue to work with municipal, federal, provincial, and First Nation governments in the Bow Valley.

This initiative has been generously supported by Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, Alpine Club of Canada and Banff Canmore Community Foundation.

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Header photo: Overlooking Banff townsite in the Bow Valley, Adam Linnard