A wildlife corridor is an area of habitat, generally native vegetation, connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or infrastructure. Corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes (i.e. allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of viable populations).
Wildlife corridors are considered functional if:
There is very little research available showing the relationship between corridor width and efficacy and there are no methods available for estimating the minimum effective width of corridors as a standard to meet due to context of design. Context is a very pertinent factor relative to TSMV corridors; corridors designed at TSMV are not bounded by development on both sides like most literary references. In the case of the Along Valley Corridor, it’s bordered on the south side by a Provincial park that will never be developed, building a precautionary amount of conservatism into the design over and above the actual corridor.
The Bow Valley is an important component of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain ecosystem, providing essential habitat for deer, elk and bighorn sheep as well as carnivores such as wolves, cougars, black bears and grizzly bears.
The proposed Smith Creek Along Valley Corridor is 625 metres wide at its narrowest point and 470 metres below (as on maps) a generally continuous 25 degree line. The width of the corridor significantly exceeds the NRCB requirement of 350 meters for primary corridors.
Two secondary corridors are proposed, with the following characteristics:
The Stewart Creek Across Valley Corridor was approved in 1998 but is proposed to be moved approximately 300 meters east to align with a potential steep creek hazard as recommended by the Town of Canmore.
Although particular species may show preferences for flatter terrain, wildlife movement does occur on steep slopes. For example, Chetkiewicz and Boyce (20092) identified multi-species least-cost movement routes upslope from currently designated wildlife corridors on TSMV lands, with substantial portions of these paths crossing slopes above 25 degrees. There is no published scientific basis for the designation of slopes greater than 25 degrees as ineffective for wildlife movement. This is acknowledged by BCEAG 2012.
In fact, the Cascade corridor in Banff National Park is widely considered effective despite having substantial area with slopes greater than 25 degrees. However, a 25 degree threshold is a locally discussed consideration and studies show that many wildlife species prefer shallower slopes. TSMV took this into account with a proposed corridor that is 470 m wide below a generally continuous 25 degree slope. TSMV’s 25 degree line was developed by modeling a contiguous 25 degree slope while taking into account topographical features like benches that facilitate wildlife movement.
Corridors primarily connect habitat patches and provide genetic connectivity; put more simply, they allow the animals to naturally migrate; mingle with other animals like them. The corridors give them the ability to pass through inhabited areas without being distracted or tempted to venture into developed areas where they could be harmed or cause harm to others. With education surrounding how to coexist with wildlife and minimize attractants, wildlife corridors can help the wildlife of the Bow Valley continue to thrive.
AEP’s mandate is to define the spatial boundaries of the wildlife corridor; therefore, habitat enhancement initiatives are not a consideration. However, habitat enhancement and wildfire thinning are being considered as part of the mitigations within the EIS and have been identified as one way to improve the functionality of corridors for some species.
Habitat enhancements that reduce forest cover can provide increased grazing space for species like elk and deer, berry production for bears, and enhance habitat for larger carnivores such as cougars and wolves by increasing predation opportunities. Previous experience with habitat enhancement in the approved 1998 Along Valley Corridor indicate that areas with enhanced habitat, including reduced forest cover and increased berry production are used extensively by wildlife, especially bears.
The Province has the sole authority to approve the size and location of a wildlife corridors within Three Sisters Mountain Village. Wildlife corridors are approved throughout Three Sisters with the last remaining being resolved with the Province parallel to the collaborative Smith Creek ASP process. The NRCB decision in 1992 granted approval to the development subject to the creation and establishment of functional wildlife movement corridors that are a minimum of 350 metres in width. Currently the corridors proposed within the Smith Creek area are proposed to be over 600 metres in width.
While the Smith Creek ASP scope did not include wildlife corridor functionality, a key requirement of any new development in the Smith Creek ASP area is agreement between the Province and TSMV on a wildlife corridor that completes the connection between the approved Along Valley Corridor and the Wind Valley Habitat Patch and Bow Flats Habitat Patch (via the G8 underpass).
The designation of wildlife corridors within the Smith Creek ASP application has been a dominant topic of conversation for the Project Team, Community Advisory Group and the general community. The goal has always been to identify a solution that balances the following four key areas:
The Project Team has taken the information discussed with the CAG and members of the community and have provided a potential corridor alignment to the Province for analysis. Approximately 71 per cent of the TSMV land ownership within the Smith Creek area has been proposed to create a wildlife movement corridor. The Province is still analyzing potential corridor alignment.
Studies of wildlife movement, including careful field measurements by local experts, stretch back to the early 1990s.
Remote cameras were deployed on TSMV lands and in adjacent wildlife corridors by Chinook Co. Environmental Ltd. between 2009 and 2014 and by Corvidae Environmental Consulting Inc. between 2015 and 2016.
Cameras were set up on any trail nearest to a randomly generated location. Trails included faint game trails, heavily used game trails, designated and undesignated human recreation trails, and active and inactive access / mining roads.
Cameras were rotated to a new random site approximately every three to four weeks by wildlife biologists. TSMV, the Town and the Province of Alberta use the same method to collect and categorize wildlife camera data and share the data.
Cameras were deployed in portions of TSMV identified for future development, the Stewart Creek Golf Course, the proposed and approved wildlife corridor system, the 35 metre Conservation Easement in and adjacent to the Resort Centre ASP area, and the Provincial Lands on Wind Ridge by professional biologists using scientifically defensible criteria reviewed by specialists at the Province of Alberta and other wildlife experts.
The Province approved an Along Valley Corridor with secondary corridors in 1998. The Along Valley Corridor was modified and two secondary corridors were designated in 2002; the current Stewart Creek and Tipple Across Valley Corridors. The existing Along Valley, and Tipple and Stewart Creek Across Valley Corridors adjacent to the Resort Centre Area Structure Plan (ASP) Area are fully approved. The discussions with the Province have not included widening the Along Valley Corridor adjacent to the Resort Centre ASP area.
The Smith Creek corridor proposal was developed by QPD (on behalf of TSMV) using input from the public, a Community Advisory Group, the Province of Alberta, Canmore stakeholders, and several experienced biologists and other specialists, while taking into account physical or topological constraints and the requirements of the 1992 NRCB decision.
The community in Canmore was engaged to provide input into the design of the Smith Creek ASP, including helping to define the wildlife corridor boundaries. QPD worked with the community and other stakeholders to balance wildlife needs with other factors including:
The needs of the community;
After taking community and stakeholder feedback into consideration, the final corridor width, length and position of the corridor was determined by TSMV in consultation with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), the Town of Canmore, and specialists and biologists. Public input will be considered by the Province and may be used to support the AEP decision making process.