Scientists urge province to wait for the latest science on wildlife corridors

Elk feed along Three Sisters Parkway in Canmore in December 2016. 

Elk feed along Three Sisters Parkway in Canmore in December 2016. 

With a growing number of development proposals in the Bow Valley, two respected wildlife ecologists are asking the province to delay its decision to wait for the best science.

The scientists — Adam Ford of the University of British Columbia - Okanagan campus, and Mark Hebblewhite of the University of Montana — have been conducting research in the Bow Valley for a combined total of 30 years.

"There is an urgent need for a systematic approach to science-based leadership that will help inform land-use planning," Ford and Hebblewhite wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Alberta Environment and Parks.

The letter, provided to Canmore Commons by Ford, is addressed to Minister Shannon Phillips and Roger Ramcharita, a director in southern Alberta who's expected to release a draft decision on the Three Sisters wildlife corridor after the deadline for public comment passes.

It's one of dozens of letters being sent to Alberta Environment and Parks with views on the application for the corridor, which are being gathered through the province's website until Thursday (April 20). 

A final decision is expected from Ramcharita in mid-May, although he said at a recent open house that he would be willing to delay it if he needed more time to consider additional information. In the meantime, the development proposals for Three Sisters are scheduled to go before Canmore's town council on May 2 and a public hearing is tentatively set for May 23 and 24.

Ford and Hebblewhite suggested the province needs to change the ad-hoc approach to land-use planning in the Bow Valley sooner rather than later.

"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," said the letter. "This discordance between evidence and decision is putting both wildlife and the local economy at risk."

They are recommending that the Government of Alberta:

  1. Conduct a cumulative effects assessment in the Bow Valley;
  2. Postpone development approvals in the Bow Valley until such an assessment is complete; and,
  3. Bring world-class science and policy tools to bear on issues of land-use planning and wildlife connectivity as part of the Bow Valley cumulative effects assessment.

In the letter, they lay out their rationale for the three recommendations, which comes from concerns about the pace of science versus the pace of the development; process, precedent, and uncertainty in environmental assessments; an understanding that the location of habitat, not just the amount of habitat, is important; and, the overall need for good science in decision making.

Colette Derworiz