Group calls for thorough review of Bow Valley development


A local conservation group is calling on all levels of government to examine all the developments currently proposed in the Bow Valley for their cumulative impact on wildlife.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, based in Canmore, sent out a news release asking that no development be allowed at Three Sisters Mountain Village and Silvertip Resorts until there’s a plan in place for wildlife corridors in the region.

“Plans put forward for development across the Bow Valley create the very real risk that residential development, hotels, gaming facilities, conference centres and a gondola could dramatically impact grizzly bears and other wide-ranging species in the Canadian Rockies,” Stephen Legault, a program director with Y2Y, said in the release.

They referred directly to the development proposals at Three Sisters, Silvertip and Dead Man’s Flats, all of which could affect wildlife movements in the Bow Valley.

Officials with the province said they share the concerns of the conservation group.

“The Alberta government is committed to maintaining wildlife connectivity as a way of fostering ecological diversity and the natural beauty of our wilderness,” said an emailed statement from Brent Wittmeier, press secretary for Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. “Our government is committed to protecting wildlife along our highways, including fencing and wildlife underpasses.”

The province echoed Y2Y’s concern for the ongoing health of the Bow Valley, which he called an important habitat for wide-ranging species.

“The Alberta government shares their concern for decision-making that balances those needs and regional economic development,” said Wittmeier.

Although there’s no legislative requirement requiring cumulative effects analysis, he said the province is working with local governments such as the M.D. of Bighorn and the Town of Canmore to minimize the cumulative impacts to the wildlife corridors.

Michael Fark, general manager of municipal infrastructure with the Town of Canmore, said they deal with those effects in several ways and have not received a formal request from Y2Y for any type of review.

"We have received nothing in writing," he said. "We don't have the details of exactly what they are requesting and how they see such a process playing out and, in the absence of an actual request ... with details on the specifics, it's difficult for us to formulate a position."

Having said that, Fark said there are ways that the town manages effects when they approve developments.

"You can't take them out of context of their history," he said. "For Three Sisters land, when the NRCB (Natural Resource Conservation Board) first considered the application, they looked at the cumulative effects — that was part of the consideration in their approvals and part of the reason why they did not allow development to occur in the Wind Valley."

Three Sisters is one of the three developments referenced by Y2Y, which expressed concerns building homes for 11,000 more people would restrict wildlife movement between Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country to a narrow corridor.

Similarly, Silvertip has an approved area structure plan for more development on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway.

"There was a requirement then for an EIS (environment impact assessment)," said Fark.

He added that Canmore has also recently updated its municipal development plan, which sets the town's overall policy direction on future land-use decisions.

"We went through a very intensive community engagement process," he said. "As a result of that, there is quite robust policy in the MDP (municipal development plan) that looks to balance development drivers with protection of the environment and other social and economic concerns."

Fark said the municipal development plan would need adjustments in order to accommodate Three Sisters' applications at Smith Creek and the Resort Centre.

"However, the changes if approved, would pertain only to the land-use maps and urban growth boundary and would not impact the policy set," he explained, noting those changes would be considered alongside the area structure plan and land-use bylaws, and addressed at the same public hearings and council sessions.

Still, Legault said that he's concerned by all of the development proposals coming forward.

"I’ve never felt that the prospects for grizzly bears in this valley are slimmer," he said in an interview. "I am reeling from the sheer scale of proposals for development in this valley.

"This place will not support the very fabric of wildlife connectivity that we have worked so hard to preserve."