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Y2Y says community blindsided by TSMV wildlife corridor approval, Canmore

"I'm not going to mince words – this is shocking. The community appears to have been broadsided by a decision that has been made behind closed doors."

CANMORE – A prominent environmental group has been blindsided by a recent announcement that indicates a wildlife corridor on the eastern edge of Canmore has been approved.

In an announcement released Friday (Feb. 28), Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) said it had received approval from the Alberta government on its revised application for a Smith Creek wildlife corridor, something Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) representatives said it knew nothing about.

“I’m not going to mince words – this is shocking,” said Hilary Young, Y2Y’s senior Alberta program manager.

“The community appears to have been broadsided by a decision that has been made behind closed doors," she added.

"This community has really shown clearly that they care what happens on these lands by engaging passionately in the past. Now we’re hearing this decision has been made in stealth and there appears to be no opportunity for community or Albertans to provide feedback.”

In 2018, 17 months after the initial application was submitted, Alberta Environment and Parks denied the application,  stating the width of the proposed corridor at the eastern end of Smith Creek is "not satisfactory."

“The application contains several positive aspects to maintain wildlife movement, but there are deficiencies which must be addressed to ensure that the wildlife corridor will achieve the purposes stated above over the very long-term,” the decision issued June 26, 2018 read.

At that time, the province sought public input on the proposal, which included a review of 439 letters as well as two public information sessions.

TSMV said it addressed previous feedback it received when the application was denied in 2017, including a realignment of the Across Valley Corridor to place it over an area with creeks, as well as to add a wildlife crossing under the Trans-Canada Highway leading to habitat surrounding the Bow River.

"Another feature of our approved proposal is the significant widening of the existing 1998 Along Valley Corridor and the protection of a prime wetland feature," the announcement said.

However, Young said it appears some of the key components of feedback have been ignored.

“It appears to us that the new decision is utterly ignoring key components from the decision the province made in 2018,” said Young.

“In 2018, the decision stated in the east end of the corridor by Dead Man's Flats needed to be widened by 50 to 100m and the new application has only widened it by 29-35m, so they aren’t following the components for approval as we understood it.”

In addition to this, Young said the newly approved corridor appears to be smaller than the last proposal.

“It appears the newly approved corridor has a smaller area than the last proposal,” she said.

“We’re still going to look at that more closely, but the number of hectares is less than the initial proposal.”

Since the decision made to deny the initial application in 2018, Young said Y2Y has had limited conversations with TSMV or the Alberta government on the issue. Young said it's been a year since Y2Y has had conversations with either the government or TSMV. In addition to this, she said TSMV has never shown Y2Y its wildlife data.

“We had a couple of conversations with Rick Blackwood [assistant deputy minister of Alberta environment and parks] during that time. It must have been a year ago now. We spoke to him on the phone and provided him some of our concerns with the previous proposal,” Young said.

“Other than a couple quick touch points, there hasn’t been any communication on this file from the province… Y2Y has requested TSMV’s wildlife data multiple times and we have never received it.”

In its announcement, TSMV touts wildlife data, writing that significant scientific work from various academic, government and commercial agencies has been done to fully understand how wildlife use the space.

In addition to this, TSMV said it has 15 years of GPS tracking telemetry, field tracking and wildlife trail use counts. However, none of this data is provided, nor shown.

“In terms of what we would have liked to see – transparency – both in how the decision was arrived at and the replicable transparent science that was used in coming to this decision,” said Young.

TSMV represents 80 per cent of the land left remaining inside the Town of Canmore's urban growth boundary that can be developed. Its property extends all the way to the Thunderstone Quarry and interchange for Dead Man's Flats.

"Roughly 70 per cent of TSMV-owned lands in the Smith Creek area have been set aside for the wildlife corridor," the TSMV announcement said.

According to the announcement, Three Sisters included 412 acres of privately-owned land within the approved proposal, leaving approximately 172 acres currently owned by Three Sisters available for development north of the Smith Creek Along Valley Corridor.

"The existing corridor, with the newly approved Smith Creek Wildlife Corridor added, means that TSMV will set aside more than sixty per cent of their privately-owned land—1,500 acres—to be dedicated to improving connectivity for elk, deer, cougars, wolves and bears," it read.

"One acre of land is equal to a small regulation soccer pitch—try to envision 1,500 of those. It’s equivalent to three-quarters of the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park lands.”

The release also said the approval recognizes “the wealth of peer-reviewed data available, stretching back to the late ‘80s.”

Rick Blackwood, Alberta’s environment and parks deputy minister, will speak at the Town of Canmore’s regular council meeting Tuesday (Mar. 3). At that time, Y2Y hopes more information will be provided to the community.


Editors Note: Updated with a photo of the proposed corridor. 

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